Put Children Ahead of Ideology in Adoption and Foster Care

children first

Every parent feels differently about how to fulfill the needs of their children. When should you wean a child off their bottle? How much screen time should a child have? How do you find the right mix of punishing bad behavior and rewarding good behavior?

Beyond disagreement, however, is the need of every child for a devoted and nurturing home. At any given moment, 125,000 children lack this basic measure of support, languishing in group homes or on the endless waiting lists of our nation’s overcrowded, underfunded foster care system.

Despite the needs of these children, lawmakers and religious extremists want to restrict these children from finding the loving homes they so desperately need. Just this month, legislatures in Kansas and Oklahoma sought to authorize discrimination against capable, eager LGBT parents by private adoption services. Gov. Fallin of Oklahoma signed that state’s bill into law, and the bill in Kansas is expected to be signed, as well.

These policies are a dangerous assault on the right of every child to a stable and caring family. The notion that someone will be a lesser parent simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is simply repugnant, and refuted by decades of research showing the exact opposite. If signed into law, these bills will stand as a hateful barrier between caring parents and the children who so desperately need them.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, over 428,000 children sit in our nation’s foster care system at any given point, 125,000 of whom are available for adoption. Each will stay in that program for an average of two years, and one in 20 will stay in the foster care system for five years or longer. Most live in single-family foster homes, but 14 percent live in institutionalized group homes.

While foster parents can be a lifesaver to any child coming from a volatile situation, these placements are far from the ideal of a stable, personalized home. We know this is the goal of the vast majority of the country’s unsung and underpaid social workers — to ensure young minds have safe environments for long-lasting attachments and relationships.

In doing so, however, private foster care and adoption agencies are expected to treat every child and every prospective parent equally. Strict federal and state laws governing child welfare agencies exist for a reason, and they help to ensure the safety and civil rights of children and parents alike.

Supposedly in the name of religious freedom, the proposals in Oklahoma and Kansas would give child-placing agencies room to act on their own agenda instead of the interests of the children they’ve been entrusted with.

If passed, these laws could let private agencies deny children a home because the parents in that home are gay or lesbian. They could deny a parent because they are transgender or hold religious beliefs different than those of the agency. They could even deny the 19 percent of foster care youth who identify as LGBT placement in a home that would accept them for who they are, instead giving the child over to parents who would prefer to enroll them in conversion therapy.

Such dangerous, subjective moralizing is exactly the kind of behavior current child welfare laws are meant to prevent. Social workers should make informed decisions based on best practices of child care and early childhood development. They should be doing what’s in the best interest of the child, not using a child’s life to enact their own ideology.

If signed by the governor of Kansas, this bill will effectively issue a license to discriminate to agencies who are supposed to work with objectivity. The bills lend credence to debunked notions about the parenting capabilities of people who are LGBT and stand against the consensus of the entire medical and child welfare establishment.

There is simply no evidence to suggest a child is affected in any negative way by their parent’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Indeed, there is mounting scientific data that suggests the opposite.

A 2017 Centers for Disease Control & Prevention survey found zero difference between the outcomes of children based on their parents sexual orientation. A 2016 study found exactly no correlation between the emotional and physical health of a child and whether they lived in a same-sex or opposite-sex household. A 2014 analysis found no difference in academic outcomes or cognitive development between the children of same-sex or opposite-sex parents.

In fact, according to a 2008 CUNY study of LGBT foster and adoptive parents, the children of LGBT parents might even benefit from exposure to “egalitarian co-parenting.” These studies confirm what generations of children adopted by LGBT parents have said for decades — a parent’s love and care will always be more impactful than their sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBT parents aren’t just able to raise adopted children — they’re four times as likely to do so as their different-sex counterparts. According to a survey conducted by The Williams Institute, 16,000 same-sex couples are currently raising 22,000 adopted children in the U.S.

Despite this well-confirmed reality, bills like those passed this week are becoming strikingly more common. Seven states — Michigan, Alabama, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas Mississippi and Virginia — now have these kinds of laws on the books, and Congressional Republicans have introduced legislation that would deny crucial federal funding to welfare agencies in any state that refused to let those agencies discriminate against parents.

These laws are an abhorrent dereliction of the duty we all have to help the scores of children who need the safety and security of a permanent home. Child welfare policy should be informed by solid data and the consensus of the early childhood development experts — not bigotry and medieval suspicions about gay couples.

There are many things about parenting and child welfare that we can debate — but the need to put children first is not one of them. We ask the and Gov. Colyer of Kansas to reject these divisive measures based in outdated and fringe beliefs. Instead, let’s build child welfare policy that’s inclusive, productive, and centered on the needs of the children who desperately need us. 

MARA KEISLING is the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality and REV. STAN J. SLOAN is CEO of the Family Equality Council

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