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Adoption by Lesbians and Gay MenA New Dimension in Family Diversity$

David M. Brodzinsky and Adam Pertman

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195322606

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195322606.001.0001

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Adoption by Lesbians and Gay Men

Adoption by Lesbians and Gay Men

A National Survey of Adoption Agency Policies and Practices

Chapter:
(p.62) 4 Adoption by Lesbians and Gay Men
Source:
Adoption by Lesbians and Gay Men
Author(s):

David M. Brodzinsky

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195322606.003.0025

Abstract and Keywords

Although it is widely acknowledged by social casework professionals that lesbian and gay individuals have been adopting children for some time, relatively little is known about adoption agency policies and practices in this area, or about the extent to which such placements are being made. The debate about adoption by lesbians, gays, and same-sex couples, as well as the development of best-practice standards in this area, requires sound empirical data and a thorough understanding of the parameters influencing such placements. In an attempt to address these issues and to promote a more informed dialogue on this controversial topic, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute conducted a systematic, nationwide analysis of how agencies handle interest by lesbians and gay men in adopting children, the extent to which agencies are making such placements, and agency staff attitudes regarding adoption by this group of individuals. This chapter provides an overview of the results of this research and the implications of these results for adoption practice.

Keywords:   lesbian and gay adoption, adoption practice, adoption agencies, adoption agency policy, Evan B. Donaldson, research

In the past few decades, considerable controversy has surrounded the issue of children growing up in lesbian- and gay-headed households. Cases such as the gay marriage trial in Hawaii (Baehr v. Miike), as well as child-custody cases around the county involving gay or lesbian parents, have focused the public’s attention on societal beliefs and stereotypes regarding the parenting capacity and mental health of lesbians and gays, as well as the psychological outcomes for children raised by them. Other cases, such as the challenge to Florida’s ban on adoption by gay men and women (Lofton v. Kearney) and the recent overturning of the Florida law (FL. Department of Children and Families v. In the Matter of Adoption of X.X.G. and N.R.G., 2010), as well as the Arkansas referendum overturning the right of same-sex couples to adopt, have extended the nationwide debate about these issues to the practice of adoption (see Appell, this volume; Blanks, Dockwell, & Wallance, 2004).1

Although it is widely acknowledged by social casework professionals that lesbian and gay individuals have been adopting children for some time (Mallon, 2006; Sullivan, 1995), relatively little is known about adoption agency policies and practices in this area, or about the extent to which such placements are being made. The debate about adoption by lesbians, gays, and same-sex couples, as well as the development of best-practice standards in this area, requires sound empirical data and a thorough understanding of the parameters influencing such placements.

In an attempt to address these issues and to promote a more informed dialogue on this controversial topic, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute conducted (p.63) a systematic, nationwide analysis of how agencies handle interest by lesbians and gay men in adopting children, the extent to which agencies are making such placements, and agency staff attitudes regarding adoption by this group of individuals. This chapter provides an overview of the results of this research and the implications of these results for adoption practice.1

Barriers to Adoption by Lesbians, Gays, and Same-Sex Couples

Although in the past there were many barriers preventing certain groups from adopting children—including single adults, low-income individuals, fertile couples, members of minority groups, older adults, disabled adults, foster parents, and lesbian and gay individuals—today those barriers have largely been eliminated (Brodzinsky & Pinderhughes, 2002; Brodzinsky, Smith, & Brodzinsky, 1998; Pertman & Howard, this volume). Only one group continues to be discouraged, and in some cases prevented from adopting: gay men and women, whether as individuals or as couples (Appell, this volume; Blanks, Dockwell, & Wallance, et al, 2004; Mallon, 2006).

Statutory barriers to same-sex adoption exist at present in two states2: Mississippi’s law prohibits adoption by same-sex couples, whereas Utah’s prohibition applies to all unmarried adults living with a sexual partner, regardless of their sexual orientation (Appell, 2001, and this volume; Blanks et al., 2004). Most states also impose statutory barriers to second-parent adoptions, prohibiting a lesbian or gay individual (or an unmarried heterosexual person) from adopting a partner’s biological or adopted child (Appell, 2001, and this volume; Blanks et al., 2004). Furthermore, although most state adoption laws are silent on the issue or allow adoption by lesbians and gays, local judiciaries are often resistant to granting adoption petitions.

Several factors appear to underlie the resistance to adoption and parenting by lesbians and gays in the United States (Brooks, Kim, & Wind, this volume; Mallon, 2006, and this volume). In many cases, personal and religious beliefs, as well as homophobic attitudes within our culture, have led individuals to conclude that same-gender sexual attraction is deviant and sinful (Herek, 1995). These beliefs and attitudes, as well as the myths, stereotypes, and misconceptions that derive from social prejudice and institutionalized discrimination against lesbians and gays, often influence state legislators, the judiciary, social casework professionals, and others who are involved in the adoption process (Matthews & Cramer, 2006; Downs & James, 2006). Stereotypes affecting policy and practice related to gay and lesbian adoption also include the notion that only heterosexuals wish to bear or raise children. Yet a sizable number of lesbians and gay men have biological children from previous marriages or through artificial insemination and surrogacy (Agigian, 2004; Gates et al., 2007; Martin, 1993; Patterson, 1994, 1995, 2002; Patterson & Friel, 2000). In fact, approximately one-third of lesbian households and one-fifth of gay male households (p.64) include children (Gates et al., 2007; U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). In addition, research on childless gay men and lesbians has found that many would like to become parents (Beers, 1996; Morris, Balsam, & Rothblum, 2000; Sbordone, 1993). Finally, barriers to same-sex adoption also reflect lingering cultural assumptions that gay and lesbian parents are more likely to be emotionally disturbed and pose a greater risk for abusing children than their heterosexual counterparts, and that their children are more likely to have psychological problems and to develop same-gender sexual attraction themselves compared to the children of heterosexual parents.3 Yet social science research has not supported these assumptions (see Gartrell, Peyser, & Bos, this volume; Goldberg, 2010; Patterson, 2002; Patterson & Wainright, this volume; Stacey & Biblarz, 2001; and Tasker & Golombok, 1997 for reviews of this literature). Furthermore, what little is known about family relationships and child outcomes in same-sex adoptive households also fails to support the critics of this type of adoption practice (Bennett, 2003; Erich, Kanenberg, Case, Allen, & Bogdanos, 2009; Erich, Leung, & Kindle, 2005; Erich, Leung, Kindle, & Carter, 2005; Kindle & Erich, 2005; Farr, Forssell, & Patterson, 2010a, 2010b; Matthews & Cramer, 2006; Ryan & Brown, this volume).

Current Trends in Adoption by Lesbians and Gay Men

Data from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics in 2002 show that a significant percentage of lesbian and bisexual women are interested in adopting children (Gates et al., 2007). In fact, interest in adopting is greater for these women (46.2 percent) than for heterosexual women (32.1 percent).4 Moreover, lesbian and bisexual women are also more likely to have ever taken concrete steps toward adopting a child (5.7 percent) compared to their heterosexual peers (3.3 percent). Gates et al. (2007) suggest that these figures translate into over a million lesbian and bisexual women being interested in adopting, with over 130,000 of these individuals actually having taken some steps toward achieving this goal. Although comparable data were not available for gay men, they suggest that there are probably another million gay or bisexual men who also are interested in adoption.

Based upon Census 2000 and NSFG data, Gates et al. (2007) report that of the nearly 3.1 million lesbian and gay households in the United States, approximately 1.6 percent (nearly 52,000) include an adopted child under the age of 18 years. In addition, they estimate that there are approximately 65,000 adopted children currently being raised by lesbian or gay parents, which accounts for over 4 percent of all adopted children in the United States. Lesbian and gay adoptive families are much more likely to live in New England, Mid-Atlantic, and West Coast states than in the Midwest or Southern states. Finally, Gates et al. (2007) reported that same-sex adoptive parents generally are older, better educated, and have higher incomes than heterosexual adoptive parents.

(p.65) Policies and Practices Related to Lesbian and Gay Adoption

Almost all major professional organizations in the legal, child-welfare and healthcare fields in the United States have issued statements supporting gay and lesbian parenting and adoption (Mallon, 2006). Moreover, the Child Welfare League of America, the preeminent professional organization in the United States setting best-practice standards for adoption and foster care, has recommended that sexual orientation should not be the sole criterion determining suitability of adoption applicants, and that lesbian and gay clients should be assessed the same way as any other prospective parents (see Mallon, this volume). Yet, despite these affirmative viewpoints, it remains unclear to what extent adoption agencies actually support and make placements with lesbians and gay men. A recent study by Brodzinsky, Patterson, and Vaziri (2002), however, sheds some light on these issues. Through a nationwide mailed survey, the investigators collected data from 214 adoption agencies with respect to their policies and practices regarding adoption by lesbians and gays during the 1995–1996 time period. Results indicated that 63 percent of agencies accepted adoption applications from these individuals, with 37 percent reporting that they had made at least one adoption placement with an individual and/or couple who self-identified as lesbian or gay. Only 16 percent of the agencies, however, reported reaching out to the lesbian and gay communities to recruit prospective adoptive parents. The research also identified two factors significantly influencing agency policies and practices in this area: the religious affiliation of the agency and the type of adoption program run by the agency. Public agencies and private, secular agencies, as well as Jewish-affiliated agencies, were more likely to accept adoption applications from lesbians and gays, and to make adoption placements with these individuals, than were agencies affiliated with the Catholic church or with fundamentalist Christian beliefs. In addition, agencies focusing on special needs adoptions were more likely to accept applications from, and make placements with, lesbians, gays, and same-sex couples than were agencies focusing on domestic infant adoptions. Agencies focusing on international adoption, and those with more varied adoption programs, fell between the other two groups with regard to their policies and practices.

Although the results reported by Brodzinsky et al. (2002) provided the first nationwide empirical data on adoption agency policies and practices related to same-sex adoption, a number of methodological issues potentially limited the study’s conclusions. The return rate of the survey was only 26 percent and, because of limited resources, the researchers were unable to follow up with agencies that failed to respond to the initial mailed survey. Although the number of agencies in the sample was considerable, and varied widely in terms of their size, geographical location, religious affiliation, and program focus, the low response rate could have produced an unrepresentative pattern of findings. Furthermore, because the researchers had relatively little information about the nonresponders, it was impossible to determine if agencies that chose not to complete the survey were (p.66) unsupportive of lesbian and gay adoption. If that were the case, the figures reported may have overestimated the percentage of agencies that accepted adoption applications or made placements with this group of individuals.

Goals of the Donaldson Institute Study

Because of the relative lack of information on lesbian and gay adoptions, and its relevance to the ongoing public debate about same-sex marriage and parenting, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute sought to expand on the research reported by Brodzinsky et al. (2002). Specifically, its goals were the following:

  • Collect data from a larger number of agencies nationally;

  • Improve the response rate for the agencies sampled;

  • Collect more detailed information on nonresponding agencies;

  • Gather more detailed information on agency policies regarding acceptance and processing of adoption applications by gays and lesbians;

  • Collect more detailed information on agency outreach efforts to the lesbian and gay communities;

  • Gather information on the training needs of agencies related to these adoptions;

  • Develop a more detailed series of questions focusing on respondents’ attitudes and beliefs regarding parenting and adoption by lesbians and gays.

Methodology

Survey Sample

Adoption agencies were identified from the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse 2001 database, which included 1692 agencies, 1641 private and 51 public (from all states and the District of Columbia). Surveys were mailed to adoption program directors from 820 private agencies (half of those listed, randomly chosen within each state), plus all 51 public agencies. After the returned surveys were examined, an additional 24 questionnaires were sent to private agencies randomly selected from those states that were underrepresented in the initially collected data. As a result, 895 agencies were targeted for inclusion in the study—51.4 percent of the private adoption agencies and 100 percent of the public ones in the database.

Three hundred and seven adoption agencies responded to the survey, 277 private and 30 public. An additional 106 questionnaires were undeliverable because the agency either had moved or no longer existed, and another 44 reported that they no longer made adoption placements. Excluding these agencies, the response rate for our study was 41.2 percent, a very acceptable rate for mailed survey research and an improvement over the study reported by Brodzinsky et al. (2002).

(p.67) Public and private agencies in nearly all states, plus the District of Columbia, returned surveys; Mississippi and New Mexico were the only exceptions. On average, about 40 percent of the agencies sampled within in each state returned completed questionnaires.

Procedures and Survey Format

Questionnaires were sent to adoption program directors, asking them to respond anonymously and return the survey in a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Several months after the initial mailing, a follow-up letter was sent to those that had not responded. Included in the follow-up letter was a request for agencies that had decided not to participate in the research to provide information explaining the basis for their decision. The final stage of data collection involved telephoning agencies that had not responded to previous requests. About 50 percent of the nonresponding agencies were contacted directly by telephone; in other cases, messages were left but not returned. Two points need to be made regarding the telephone contact. First, a sizable minority of those agencies contacted reported they had never received a copy of the initial survey or the follow-up letter, strongly suggesting that a number of nonrespondents, with whom we had no contact, may also have failed to receive the survey. If so, the return rate may underestimate the extent of agency cooperation in the research, since those that were unaware of the existence of the study could not make an informed decision about whether to participate. Second, in 35 cases data were collected by telephone. Because this procedure offered the respondents no anonymity, they were not asked to respond to the last section of the survey focusing on personal attitudes regarding parenting and adoption by lesbian and gay individuals.

The questionnaire, which was a revision of the one used by Brodzinsky et al. (2002), was designed to identify adoption agency policies and practices regarding applications from and placements with lesbians and gays during the 2-year period covering 1999–2000, as well as to assess respondents’ attitudes about parenting and adoption by sexual minority adults. The survey consisted of 18 questions addressing the following issues:

  1. (1) agency type (public or private);

  2. (2) agency religious affiliation, if any;

  3. (3) total number of adoption placements completed in 1999 and 2000;

  4. (4) percent of placements involving domestic infants and toddlers, children with special needs, and children from other countries;

  5. (5) awareness of state law on adoption by lesbians and gays;

  6. (6) awareness of state law regarding second-parent adoption;

  7. (7) agency policy regarding gay and lesbian adoption;

  8. (8) agency involvement in international adoption, and if it exists, the countries from which placements are made;

  9. (9) willingness to accept adoption applications from openly, self-identified lesbian and gay individuals;

  10. (p.68)
  11. (10) estimated number of placements made with lesbians and gays;

  12. (11) policies and practices regarding collecting information about an applicant’s sexual orientation;

  13. (12) what the agency would do if, during the course of the adoption application process, it became apparent that the applicant was lesbian or gay, although she or he had not acknowledged it previously;

  14. (13) whether the agency had ever rejected an application from a gay or lesbian individual, and, if so, for what reasons;

  15. (14) whether the agency recruits applicants from the gay and lesbian communities as parenting resources for “waiting” children, and if so, by what means;

  16. (15) whether the agency was interested in receiving in-service training related to working with lesbians, gays, and same-sex couples as prospective adoptive parents, and, if so, in what areas the training would be most useful;

  17. (16) whether the agency, as a matter of policy or routine practice, informs birth parents when the adoption plan involves placing their child with a gay or lesbian individual or couple;

  18. (17) whether the agency has had instances in which birth parents have requested placement of their child with a gay or lesbian individual or couple, and, if so, how often this has occurred; and

  19. (18) whether the agency has had instances in which birth parents specifically have requested that their child not be placed with such individuals, and, if so, how often this has occurred.

Finally, respondents also were asked to fill out an 18-item questionnaire, with each statement rated on a 5-point scale from strongly agree (5) to strongly disagree (1), focusing on their personal attitudes and beliefs related to lesbian and gay parenting and adoption. Data from the attitude questionnaire can be found in the technical report on the project and will not be reported in this chapter (Brodzinsky, 2003).

Survey Findings

Agency Characteristics

As noted previously, of the agencies responding to the survey, 30 were public and 277 were private. The size of the adoption programs was highly variable across agencies. The average number of placements made by the public agencies across the 2-year period studied was 2050.3 (range from 60 to 13,556), while the average number of placements for private agencies was 116.9 (range from 0 to 902). The nature of the adoption programs run by the agencies also varied. Public agencies almost exclusively placed older children and those with special needs (94.9 percent), with only a small percentage of the placements involving domestically born infants (p.69) (5.1 percent). In contrast, 39.6 percent of the adoption placements made by private agencies involved domestically born infants and toddlers, 32.9 percent involved children with special needs, and 27.6 percent involved children from other countries. Agencies also varied in terms of their religious affiliation. Nearly one-half (48.7 percent) of the private agencies had no religious affiliation, 17 percent were affiliated with Catholicism, 6.1 percent with the Mormon church, 5.4 percent with Lutheranism, 5.4 percent with various Fundamentalist Christian denominations, 4.3 percent with Judaism, 3.6 percent with the Baptist church, 2.9 percent with the Methodist church, and 6.5 percent with other religious denominations.

Nonparticipant Characteristics

One of the study’s goals was to collect information on nonparticipating agencies to enable more accurate interpretation of the findings. One hundred and twenty agencies, representing 25 percent of the nonparticipants, provided information through follow-up letters and telephone contacts. Over a third (34.1 percent) of the nonparticipating adoption directors indicated they did not respond because their agencies did not work with lesbian or gay clients. In the majority of these cases, this policy was connected to the agency’s religious affiliation. In other cases, however, respondents indicated their agencies placed only children from other nations, and the countries they worked with prohibited placement of children with this group of individuals.

A slightly greater percentage (36.7 percent) of the nonparticipants decided not to fill out the questionnaire because their agencies were not directly involved in making adoption placements. In some cases, the agency’s adoption program had closed; in others, the agency only did homestudies; in a few instances, the agency was an administrative office only and its adoptions were conducted through affiliated offices also included in the database. Another 13.3 percent of the nonparticipating adoption directors reported they were interested in the project but too busy to respond or their adoption programs were so large they had no way of knowing whether a prospective adoptive parent was lesbian or gay; state agencies accounted for many of the latter cases. In addition, 12.5 percent of the nonparticipating adoption directors stated they were not interested in filling out the survey, but gave no specific reason for their decision. Finally, included among the nonparticipants were four agencies (3.0 percent) that returned the survey with incomplete data.

As noted previously, in calculating our return rate, we eliminated those nonparticipating agencies that did not make adoption placements. For some of our key analyses, however, we were able to include information from those nonparticipating agencies reporting that they did not work with lesbian and gay clients. For example, when agencies declined to participate in the study for this reason, the following assumptions were made: (1) they were unwilling to accept adoption applications from these individuals; (2) they made no placements with self-identified lesbian and gay individuals; (3) they would reject any application submitted by (p.70) self-identified lesbians or gays; (4) they did not recruit from this group for prospective adoptive parents; and (5) they were uninterested in staff training related to working with such clients. Based upon these assumptions, data from an additional 41 nonparticipating agencies were included in all data analyses for the areas of inquiry noted above, which increased our overall return rate to 46.7 percent for these critical analyses.

Awareness of Adoption Law

Adoption agency directors were asked to indicate their states’ legal status regarding adoption by lesbians and gays. At the time the data were collected, only Florida, Mississippi, and Utah had statutory bans or prohibitive barriers to such adoptions. Nevertheless, 17 respondents (5.4 percent) from other states incorrectly reported that lesbians and gays were barred from adopting children in their states. Another 31 respondents (9.9 percent) were unsure of their states’ laws on the subject.

Agency Policies Regarding Same-Sex Adoption

The survey asked whether agencies had any official policies regarding adoption by gays and lesbians, and, if so, their nature. Respondents were asked to select one or more policies listed in the survey that guided their agencies’ decision-making process in this area. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of adoption directors reported that their agencies had specific, relevant policies. For those with formal policies, the following guidelines were acknowledged as factors in decision-making practices regarding adoption applications from this group of potential clients: 33.6 percent accepted such applications based upon a nondiscriminatory policy; 19.5 percent accepted such applications, but noted that adoption placements were guided by regulations set forth by the child’s country of origin; 18.1 percent accepted such applications, but reported that the child’s birth parents were allowed to make the final choice; 19.5 percent rejected such applications on religious or moral grounds; 8 percent rejected such applications because they placed children only with married couples; and 5.2 percent rejected such applications based on state law or country of origin prohibitions.

Acceptance of Adoption Applications from Lesbians and Gays

Respondents were asked whether their agencies accepted adoption applications from self-identified lesbian and gay individuals as well as same-sex couples. Sixty percent of adoption directors indicated their agencies accepted applications from single sexual minority women and men, with only a slightly smaller percentage reporting acceptance of applications from lesbian couples (59.2 percent) and gay couples (59.2 percent).5 [These percentages, and others below, when appropriate, (p.71) include data from those agencies declining to participate because they did not make adoption placements with this group. Furthermore, because all subsequent analyses of adoption agency policies and practices comparing single lesbians versus single gay men, and lesbian couples versus gay male couples, were not significant, only those for single lesbians will be presented. The reader should assume that the same pattern of findings applies for the other three groups. Finally, for ease of reading, all statistical data have been eliminated in the chapter, but can be found in the technical report on the Donaldson Adoption Institute website, www.adoptioninstitute.org (Brodzinsky, 2003).]

Acceptance of applications from lesbians and gays was associated with the type of adoption program run by the agency. An adoption program was defined in terms of the percentage of placements involving a particular type of child. For example, an agency was designated as focused on domestic infants and toddlers if more than 50 percent of its placements involved such children. Similarly, agencies were designated as focused on either special needs or internationally born children if more than 50 percent of the placements involved such youngsters, respectively. If no single category represented a majority of the agency’s placements, it was designated as having a mixed adoption program. Overall, 33 percent of the agencies focused primarily on placing domestically born infants and toddlers, 35 percent predominately made placements of children with special needs, 21 percent were primarily involved in international placements, and 11 percent had mixed adoption programs. Statistical analysis indicated a significant difference in the acceptance of adoption applications from the different types of agencies: Special needs agencies were much more willing to accept applications from lesbians than agencies focusing on international placements, those with mixed adoption programs, and those focusing on domestically born infants and toddlers (Table 4.1).

Table 4.1 Percentage of Agencies Displaying Various Types of Involvement in Gay and Lesbian Adoption as a Function of Adoption Program Focus

Infant/Toddler

Special Needs

International

Mixed

Willingness to accept adoption applications from lesbians and gays

48.0

85.3

68.2

65.7

Made at least one adoption placement with a lesbian or gay individual or couple

25.5

61.5

51.5

45.7

Made outreach recruiting efforts to lesbians and gays

14.7

32.1

19.7

11.4

Interested in training related to adoption by lesbians and gays

42.2

71.6

39.4

60.0

(p.72) There was also a significant difference in the acceptance of adoption applications from lesbians as a function of the agencies’ religious affiliations. In this study, Jewish-affiliated agencies were universally willing to work with lesbian clients, as were the majority of public and private secular agencies and the majority of Lutheran agencies. The rest were much less willing to accept applications from these individuals, although a sizable minority of Methodist and Catholic agencies did. No agencies affiliated with fundamentalist Christian beliefs or the Baptist church, and only one Mormon agency respondent, reported a willingness to accept applications from lesbians (Table 4.2).

Collection of Information on Sexual Orientation

When asked whether their agencies collected information on prospective adoptive parents’ sexual orientation, 42.9 percent of adoption directors responded affirmatively. Nearly three-quarters (72.5 percent) of these agencies explored the issue of sexual orientation with all applicants as part of the homestudy; 12 percent indicated the information is included in the application process; 10.6 percent reported the information is sought only from individuals thought to be lesbian or

Table 4.2 Percentage of Agencies Displaying Various Types of Involvement in Gay and Lesbian Adoption as a Function of Religious Affiliation

Pub

PrS

Jew

Lut

Bap

Cat

Mor

Met

ChF

Oth

Willingness to accept adoption applications from lesbians and gays

90.0

80.2

100.0

66.7

0.0

27.7

5.9

37.5

0.0

17.7

Made at least one adoption placement with a lesbian or gay individual or couple

83.3

55.9

72.7

53.3

0.0

2.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

11.8

Made outreach recruiting efforts to lesbians and gays

20.0

29.9

41.7

0.0

0.0

4.3

0.0

0.0

0.0

5.9

Interested in training related to adoption by lesbians and gays

66.6

64.4

83.3

53.3

10.0

23.4

0.0

25.0

0.0

11.8

Notes: Pub, public agencies; PrS, private secular agencies; Jew, Jewish agencies; Lut, Lutheran agencies; Bap, Baptist agencies; Cat, Catholic agencies; Mor, Mormon agencies; Met, Methodist agencies; ChF, Christian fundamentalist agencies; Oth, other agencies.

(p.73) gay; and 15.9 percent noted the information is collected by other means. (Because a respondent could indicate more than one means of collecting this information, the total percentage exceeds 100 percent.)

Respondents were asked what their agencies would do if, during the course of the application process or homestudy, it became apparent an applicant was lesbian or gay, although she or he had not acknowledged it previously. More than half (54.3 percent) reported they would include this information in the adoption preparation and education process; 29 percent stated they would reject the client’s application; 9.5 percent indicated they would ignore the information and continue to process the application; 3.7 percent suggested they would refer the client for counseling as an adjunct to the homestudy process; and 8.9 percent reported they would choose other options, including referring the client to another agency that worked with lesbians and gays, or only allowing the applicant to adopt a child with special needs. (Once again, because a respondent could provide more than one answer to the question, the total percentage exceeds 100 percent.)

Agency Placement Practices in Relation to Lesbians and Gays

Over the 2-year period of 1999–2000, responding agencies reported making a total of 91,118 adoption placements, 1206 (1.3 percent) of which were with self-identified lesbians and gays. It should be noted, however, that this figure almost assuredly underestimates the true extent of such placements. For many agencies, especially private ones with large adoption programs, as well as for many state agencies, respondents noted that although their organization had made such placements, it was impossible to estimate the actual number. In such cases, for statistical purposes, only one adoption placement with a lesbian or gay client per year was counted. Because respondents often were unsure of the exact number of such adoption placements made by their agencies, we utilized the same strategy as Brodzinsky et al. (2002) and sought to determine the percentage of agencies that made at least one such placement during the study period. Our data indicate that 39 percent of all agencies made at least one such placement.

Adoption placements with lesbians and gays varied, however, as a function of the types of programs run by the specific agencies. Those focusing on special needs placements were significantly more likely to place a child with lesbian or gay clients than were agencies focusing on domestically born infants and toddlers; agencies with a strong international adoption focus or a mixed adoption program fell between the other two agency types (see Table 4.1).

Placement of children with lesbian and gay individuals or couples was also associated with the agency’s religious affiliation. Jewish and Lutheran agencies, as well as public agencies, and private secular agencies were significantly more likely to make an adoption placement with a self-identified lesbian or gay client than were agencies affiliated with the Catholic, Mormon, Methodist, and fundamentalist Christian churches (see Table 4.2).

(p.74) Respondents also were asked whether their agencies had ever rejected an application from a prospective lesbian or gay adoptive parent. Approximately 20 percent of all respondents reported their agencies, on at least one occasion, had rejected such an application. When asked their reasons, the following explanations were noted: applicant’s unrealistic expectations regarding adoption (31.8 percent), psychological problems in the applicant (31.8 percent), questionable motives for adopting (24.6 percent), relationship problems for the applicant (24.6 percent), placement with lesbians and gays violates agency policy (23.2 percent), applicant’s lifestyle was incompatible with adoption (20.3 percent), placement with lesbians and gays was prohibited by the child’s country of origin (20.3 percent), the sexual orientation of the applicant was incompatible with adoption (14.5 percent), placement with lesbian and gay adults was prohibited by state law (13.1 percent), lack of adequate social support (11.6 percent), financial problems for the applicant (8.7 percent), same-sex placements violate community standards (4.3 percent), and medical problems of the applicant (2.9 percent). (Because the respondent could endorse more than one reason for the agency’s decision to reject an application from a lesbian or gay client, the total percentage exceeds 100 percent.)

Almost half (47 percent) of the agencies that accepted applications from lesbians and gays indicated that as a matter of policy or routine practice, they informed birth parents when making an adoption placement with a lesbian or gay individual or same-sex couple. Furthermore, approximately 15 percent of these agencies indicated they have had birth parents request such placements or have chosen or agreed to such individuals as their child’s adoptive parents. On the other hand, nearly 26 percent of respondents also noted their agencies have had birth parents object to the placement of their child with lesbian or gay individuals, or have specifically asked that their child not be placed with such individuals.

Recruitment of Lesbian and Gay Adoptive Parents

Approximately one-fifth (19 percent) of adoption directors reported their agencies made outreach efforts to recruit adoptive parent applicants from lesbian and gay communities. Among those agencies that did attempt to do so, a wide range of methods was employed. By far the most prevalent was word of mouth (86.6 percent), followed by efforts to work with lesbian and gay organizations (49.3 percent), adoption workshops targeting these individuals as prospective adoptive parents (38.8 percent), advertisements in targeted publications (23.8 percent), posting of information about same-sex adoption on the agency’s website (19.4 percent), emailing or mailing adoption information to lesbian and gay groups (10.4 percent), and a variety of other recruitment efforts (7.5 percent). (Because respondents could indicate more than one type of recruitment effort, the total percentage exceeds 100 percent.)

Active recruitment of gay and lesbian prospective adoptive parents varied as a function of the focus of each agency’s program. Agencies that predominately placed children with special needs were more likely to recruit gay men and women (p.75) as parenting resources than were agencies focusing on international or domestic infant and toddler placements, as well as those with mixed adoption programs (see Table 4.1).

Recruitment of prospective adoptive parents from lesbian and gay communities, once again, was associated with the agency’s religious affiliation. Jewish-affiliated agencies, as well as public agencies and private secular agencies, made some effort to reach out to lesbians and gays; Catholic-affiliated agencies displayed a minimal interest in recruiting such clients; the remainder of the agencies displayed no interest at all (see Table4.2).

Training in Working with Lesbian and Gay Adoptive Parents

Respondents were asked whether their agencies would be interested in receiving in-service training geared toward working with prospective adoptive parents who are lesbian or gay, either in written form or through workshops. Nearly half (48 percent) indicated a desire for such training. Agencies focusing on the placement of children with special needs and those with mixed adoption programs expressed more interest in such training than did agencies focusing on domestic infant and toddler adoptions and international adoptions (see Table 4.1). In addition, interest in training also varied as a function of the agency’s religious affiliation (see Table 4.2). Respondents from Jewish-affiliated agencies expressed the greatest interest in such training, followed by those from state agencies, private secular agencies, and Lutheran-affiliated agencies. A sizable minority of agencies affiliated with the Methodist and Catholic churches also displayed some interest in training. The remainder showed minimal (Baptist) or no interest at all (Mormon, Christian Fundamentalist). Furthermore, as would be expected, interest in training was greater among those agencies expressing a willingness to accept adoption applications from lesbian and gay individuals (74.4 percent) and those that had already made at least one adoption placement with this group (77.6 percent) compared to those that expressed no interest in working with such clients (8 percent) or that had not placed any children for such adoptions during the study period (27.9 percent).

Finally, adoption program directors were asked to indicate which training topics in relation to lesbian and gay adoption would be particularly useful for agency staff. The most frequently endorsed training areas were psychological issues in children raised by lesbian and gay parents (88.7 percent); social casework issues in working with such clients (88.1 percent); psychological issues in adoptive parenting by lesbians and gays (81.5 percent); attitudes, biases, and stereotypes about lesbian and gay individuals and couples (75 percent); and relevant legal issues (68.5 percent).

Conclusions and Implications

The current study collected data on adoption by lesbians and gays from a large number of agencies across the United States—both public and private, and varying (p.76) in size, program focus, and religious affiliation. Importantly, our return rate was slightly over 41 percent for most analyses, and nearly 47 percent for some of the more crucial analyses when data from nonparticipating agencies were included.

Our results confirm that adoptions of children by lesbians and gays are occurring regularly and in noteworthy numbers across the country, through both public and private agencies, a finding consistent with data reported by Gates et al. (2007). Slightly over 60 percent of respondents indicated that their agencies were willing to accept adoption applications from lesbian and gay individuals and same-sex couples, and 39 percent reported their agencies had made at least one placement with this group in 1999 and 2000. These figures are consistent with the ones reported by Brodzinsky et al (2002). Given our success in increasing the response rate from 26 percent to 47 percent (for these specific analyses), we are confident these data are reliable and valid indicators of the nationwide trend in adoption agency willingness to accept applications from, and place children with, lesbians and gays.

What our data cannot determine is the actual number of adoption placements being made with this group of individuals. Very few agencies reported that they keep such adoption statistics. In fact, only about 43 percent of respondents indicated their agencies collected information about an applicant’s sexual orientation at all. Our study found 1.3 percent of all adoption placements were made with self-identified lesbians or gays compared to 1.6 percent reported by Brodzinsky et al. (2002). As noted previously, this figure probably underestimates the number of such placements, especially for public agencies and larger private ones.

Many respondents noted that although they were aware their agencies had made placements with lesbian or gay applicants during the target period, because of the size of their adoption program, or because they did not keep specific statistics on such placements, they could not provide an estimate of the number of children placed with gay individuals or couples. In such cases, for statistical purposes, we assumed only one adoption was made with a lesbian or gay individual or couple during the target period. For public and larger private agencies, this assumption is extremely conservative. Although it accurately represents the fact that the agency made adoption placements with lesbians and gays, it does not capture the actual extent of this practice over the 2-year period studied.

Furthermore, there are other reasons to believe that the 1.3 percent figure underestimates the prevalence of adoption by lesbians and gays in the United States (see also Gates et al., 2007). Because of homophobic and heterosexist attitudes, some lesbians and gays choose to withhold information regarding their sexual orientation when they submit applications to adoption agencies. With the growing acceptance of single adoptive parenthood, as well as the sensitivity among many social casework professionals regarding exploring issues of sexual orientation during the home study process (Brooks, Kim, & Wind, this volume; Mallon, 2006, and this volume), agency personnel often have no basis for knowing an unmarried applicant’s sexual orientation. In addition, this study, like the one reported by Brodzinsky et al. (2002), focused only on adoptions facilitated by (p.77) public and licensed private agencies. Yet many lesbians and gays choose to pursue adoption through private placement, by means of attorneys or other professionals, rather than through agencies of any type. The thousands of independent adoptions that occur each year are not represented in our data.

Although approximately 60 percent of public agencies responded to our survey, adoption directors from several states with very large adoption programs did not return questionnaires. Because the majority of public agency placements involve children with special needs, and the data suggest that agencies focusing on such children are the most likely to accept applications from and make placements with lesbians and gays, the percentage of adoptions by this group of individuals reported here is undoubtedly a significant underestimate.

Finally, it is important to note that the survey data reflect agency policies and practices from approximately 10 years ago. Given the growing acceptance for gay and lesbian parenthood and adoption in the general population (ABC News, 2002; Mallon, 2006; Miall & March, 2005; Schwartz, 2010), it is not unreasonable to expect that the figures reported here are lower than would be found for more current placement data.

The results also point to a clear disparity between the percentage of agencies indicating that they accept adoption applications from lesbians and gays (60 percent), the percentage that made at least one such placement during the target period (39 percent), and the percentage that actively recruited these individuals as prospective adoptive parents (19 percent). Several possible explanations account for this finding.

First, agency policies regarding same-sex adoption may not be well disseminated to the lesbian and gay communities. Only a small percentage of agencies reported that they actively target these women and men in their advertisements, training seminars, and websites. Many agencies willing to accept applications from these individuals may not openly advertise this fact because they do not want to create controversy and/or alienate possible funding sources. Such agencies are likely to have a passive approach to lesbian and gay adoption; in other words, they do not actively seek out gay individuals or couples. As a result, lesbians and gays who wish to adopt may assume their sexual orientation automatically eliminates them as applicants at most agencies. If so, they may be reluctant to apply, may choose not to reveal their sexual orientation, or may apply only to agencies that have developed a reputation, probably through word of mouth, as being gay friendly. [Projects such as the one initiated by the Human Rights Campaign recently have been developed to help agencies overcome barriers to working with sexual-minority individuals, as well as to reach out to this community as a viable option for children needing to be adopted (Human Right Campaign, 2009)].

Additionally, the disparity between the percentage of agencies willing to accept applications from lesbian and gay clients compared to the percentage that have made such placements could reflect a difference between formal policies and the attitudes, beliefs, and behavior of the casework personnel who process applications (Brooks, Kim, & Wind, this volume; Mallon, 2006, and this volume). Caseworkers (p.78) who oppose such adoptions, for any reason, could ignore agency policies and obstruct placements with lesbian and gay clients.

Finally, the data on willingness to accept adoption applications could be somewhat inflated by a politically correct response bias. In other words, some respondents may have sought to portray their agencies as being antidiscriminatory and open to all potential applicants, even though, in practice, they do not support or allow adoption by lesbians and gays.

To reiterate, our results, like those of Brodzinsky et al. (2002), indicate that placements with lesbians and gays differ as a function of the agency’s program focus and religious affiliation. Generally, agencies focusing on special needs adoptions are more willing to accept applications from lesbians and gays than all other types of agencies. These agencies also make more effort to recruit prospective parents from the lesbian and gay communities, and make more adoption placements with these individuals, than other agencies. Over the years, special needs agencies have been the most aggressive in breaking down the barriers to adoptive parenthood. With the significant number of children lingering in foster care, these agencies have increasingly become more inclusive in their policies, allowing certain groups to adopt (e.g., older adults, low-income families, foster parents, disabled individuals, single adults, minority individuals, lesbians and gays), who in the past were precluded from doing so (Brodzinsky & Pinderhughes, 2002; Brodzinsky et al., 1998; Cole & Donley, 1990; Howard, 2006; Howard & Freundlich, 2008).

In contrast, agencies focusing on the placement of domestic infants and toddlers were the least likely to have policies and practices supportive of same-sex adoption. Several factors may account for this finding. First, a growing number of biological parents today are choosing the families who adopt their children. As a result, although an agency may be willing to accept applications from lesbians or gays, birth parents’ choices may well keep down the actual number of such placements. In fact, 26 percent of all agencies that accept applications from lesbians and gays reported that at one or more times, pregnant women (and their partners, when involved) have specifically requested that the agency not place their child with such individuals. (In contrast, 15 percent of these agencies indicated that at one or more times, expectant parents have actually requested, or approved of plans, to place their child with lesbians or gays.) Second, many infant-oriented agencies are also affiliated with religions that have very conservative beliefs about lesbians and gays. In the current study, these agencies reported little interest in working with lesbian and gay adults.

The situation for agencies focusing on international adoption is more complicated. To the best of our knowledge, no sending country has a policy specifically allowing the placement of children with lesbians and gays. In fact, some either specifically prohibit such placements or have regulations that indirectly impede them (e.g., requiring adoptive parents to be married). Yet more than two-thirds of the international agencies in our study reported that they were willing to accept applications from lesbian and gay clients, and half of these made at least one placement with such individuals. These results are very similar to those (p.79) reported by Brodzinsky et al. (2002) and suggest that many international adoption agencies likely have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding such placements. As Brodzinsky et al. (2002) noted, however, these agencies appear to face an ethical dilemma involving the choice between adhering to the cultural values, standards, and regulations of a child’s birth country—which in many cases would preclude lesbian and gay adoption—and the desire to find a stable and nurturing home environment for a child in need, regardless of the adoptive parents’ sexual orientation. To date, there has been relatively little discussion in the professional literature regarding this ethical issue, nor of possible ways for agencies to deal with this dilemma.

Our study also clearly links agency policies and practices regarding lesbians and gays to religious affiliation (or lack thereof). Consistent with the results reported by Brodzinsky et al. (2002), our data strongly suggest that public agencies and private secular agencies, as well as Jewish- and Lutheran-affiliated agencies, are much more willing to work with lesbian and gay clients than are most other religiously affiliated agencies, especially those associated with Catholic, Baptist, Mormon, and fundamentalist Christian churches.

Although many public and private agencies appear to support adoption by lesbians and gays, very few reported attempting to recruit prospective adoptive parents from these communities. The agencies that did report some type of recruiting effort indicated that word of mouth was by far the most common means of outreach. Efforts to work directly with lesbian and gay organizations and advocacy groups, as well as educational seminars targeting lesbian and gay individuals, also were relatively common strategies employed by agencies. It would appear, however, that this is an area in which agencies need much more education and training (Human Rights Campaign, 2009).

It is also clear that many agencies are interested in specific training to work with lesbian and gay clients. Specific areas of interest noted by the respondents were legal and social casework issues, myths and stereotypes associated with same-gender sexual attraction, and psychological issues related to same-sex parents and their children. In keeping with the pattern of findings previously reported, interest in such training was greater among agencies associated with special needs placements, as well as public agencies, private secular agencies, Jewish-affiliated agencies, and Lutheran-affiliated agencies. Despite this interest, until very recently, there had been no systematic effort made to develop and disseminate training materials on lesbian and gay adoption, with the exception of the work of the Human Rights Campaign (2009) and the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.6

Slightly more than 5 percent of adoption directors incorrectly reported that adoption by lesbians and gays was prohibited by their states’ law, and another 10 percent were unsure of the legal standards in their states. These findings, which probably can be accounted for by the ambiguity, frequent challenges, and periodic amendments to state adoption laws, suggest the need for ongoing education of adoption agency personnel regarding the legal status of same-sex adoption (and second-parent adoption) in their states.

(p.80) In evaluating the results of this study, several methodological issues need to be considered. The first is the sample representation. Although our return rate is reasonable for mailed survey research, it does leave open the possibility that the results are skewed by the nature of the participating versus nonparticipating agencies. We were able to gather information on the reasons for nonparticipation from 25 percent of these agencies. Approximately one-third of these respondents indicated they chose not to participate because their agencies did not work with lesbian or gay clients. It is possible that many of the other nonparticipating agencies that did not respond to our follow-up letter also had policies and practices that were unsupportive of placements with these individuals. An examination of the names of the nonparticipating agencies indicated that many (but still a minority) had Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, or Mormon affiliations. Our findings suggest that these types of agencies generally are unsupportive of same-sex adoption.

However, failure to participate in the study was related not only to the agency’s lack of support for such adoptions. In fact, the most common reason for nonparticipation (39 percent) was that the agency’s adoption program had closed or it conducted only homestudies. Furthermore, another 13 percent of respondents from nonparticipating agencies indicated they were interested in the study, but were simply too busy to fill out the questionnaire. In short, it is clear that there were many possible reasons for nonparticipation and that conservative attitudes and policies about lesbians and gays were not necessarily the dominant factor. Thus, given the random sampling of agencies within each state, coupled with the large number of agencies that responded to the survey, it is our belief that the results reflect a reliable and valid assessment of nationwide trends in adoption agency interest and willingness to work with prospective lesbian and gay adoptive parents.

A second limitation of the study is that it focused only on the policies and practices of licensed adoption agencies and excluded the many independent adoption placements made each year nationwide. As noted previously, many lesbians and gays choose independent adoption, typically with the help of an attorney. This study does not examine such placements.

Several implications can be drawn from our findings. On a broad sociological level, the clear picture is of a growing willingness by adoption agencies to place children with lesbians and gays, and of a desire by this group of individuals and couples to become adoptive parents (Gates et al., 2007; Mallon, 2006, and this volume). The consequences of this trend are beyond the scope of this study, but certainly warrant future research and analysis.

For those single gays and lesbians, as well as same-sex couples, who wish to become adoptive parents, the picture appears more encouraging than is often portrayed. Although homophobic and heterosexist attitudes undoubtedly influence the policies and practices of many agencies (Brooks, this volume; Mallon, this volume), the majority indicate they are willing to work with these individuals, even if their brochures, advertisements, and websites do not currently indicate that this is the case. This finding suggests that lesbians and gays should not only examine the written materials of an agency, but also talk with its personnel, as well (p.81) as others who have worked with the agency, before making a determination about applying for adoption.

As noted previously, it is clear that many agencies need, and desire, better training in this area, including the best ways of reaching out to prospective sexual minority adoptive parents. The relatively passive approach utilized by the majority of agencies often reflects their lack of awareness of the interest in adoption among many lesbians and gays or the best ways of making contact with these individuals.

Finally, the passive approach to working with lesbian and gay clients, including agencies that employ a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, raises a number of problems in relation to both preplacement and postplacement services for these individuals. If agency personnel do not know that a client is lesbian or gay, or choose not to address this topic directly when they do know, then a variety of important issues may never be adequately addressed—even though they have a potentially significant impact on the children, parents, and families as a whole. For example, the following are just a few of the relevant questions to be raised with lesbian and gay clients: How do they expect their sexual orientation to affect their children over the course of their development? What plans do they have for discussing their sexual orientation with their children? How do they plan to help their children deal with homophobic attitudes and behaviors of others, including their extended families, teachers, neighbors, etc.? To what extent are the clients’ extended families, friends, and co-workers aware of their sexual orientation, and what level of support have they received from these individuals? Just as caseworkers explore adoption-related expectations with, and provide support to, adoptive parents during the preplacement period, they need to explore the unique aspects of lesbian and gay adoptive family life with their clients (Goldberg & Gianino, this volume; Mallon, this volume). Unless adoption agency personnel are aware of their clients’ sexual orientation and create an atmosphere of respect, understanding, and support, it is unlikely that these and related issues will be discussed in an open and forthright manner. In the long run, failure to address these issues may well increase the risk for adjustment problems for the children, parents, and families.

Acknowledgments

This research was supported by a grant from the Rainbow Foundation to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. We wish to express our deep appreciation to the adoption directors who took part in the study.

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Notes:

(1.) On April 7, 2001, after the book was in production, the supreme court of Arkansas declared the state law banning adoption by sexual minority adults to be unconstitutional.

(1.) For a more detailed analysis of the findings, see Brodzinsky (2003).

(2.) Until very recently, Florida banned adoption by sexual minority individuals and couples. However, in 2008, the ban was ruled unconstitutional and the ruling was (p.82) upheld by the Third District Court of Appeal in 2010 (Florida Department of Children and Families v. In the Matter of Adoption of X.X.G. and N.R.G., No. 3D08–3044, 2010 WL 3655782 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. Sept 22, 2010). It is possible, however, that opponents of this type of adoption could challenge the ruling in future cases in Florida.

(3.) In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. The American Psychological Association, and all other healthcare associations, supported this decision.

(4.) Data related to adoption among gay men were not included in this report because the survey did not ask straight or gay men adoption-related questions.

(5.) Accepting applications from gay and lesbian couples should not be taken to mean that agencies were facilitating joint legal adoptions by the partners. In fact, in many states this type of adoption was prohibited by law. For purposes of this study, applications by couples is simply an acknowledgment by the agency that they worked with partnered gays and lesbians as well as unpartnered ones.

(6.) For information on the work by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), contact Ellen Kahn at HRC in Washington, D.C.; for information on the work being conducted by the Donaldson Adoption Institute contact Adam Pertman at the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York City.