by GLPages.com Apr 29, 2023
Lesbians and gay men bring children into their lives in a number of ways. In lesbian couples, frequently one partner gives birth to a child and the other partner -- the second parent -- becomes a legal parent through second parent or step-parent adoption. Lesbians or gay men sometimes adopt children jointly so that both of them are legal parents from the beginning.
Lesbian and gay singles and couples in California can adopt children through agency or independent adoptions, and even through international adoptions, though they will have to be closeted to complete an international adoption.
For many same-sex couples, however, joint or second parent adoptions are not available. A few states, such as Florida, bar same-sex partners from adopting. For a state-by-state overview of second parent adoption laws and cases, visit Lambda Legal's website at www.lambdalegal.org.
Legal Parents: Rights and Responsibilities
A legal parent is a person who has the right to live with a child (full or part-time) and to make decisions about the child's health, education, and well-being. A legal parent is also responsible for financially supporting the child. When a married couple has or jointly adopts a child, both partners are automatically considered legal parents. As a result, even if they split up, they both remain legal parents unless a court terminates either parent's rights.
Some lesbian and gay couples are fortunate enough to live in a state where same-sex partners can jointly adopt a child -- or where one partner can adopt the biological child of the other through a second parent, step-parent, or domestic partner adoption. These procedures ensure that both partners are considered legal parents of their child.
Now that same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts, same-sex parents should be considered legal parents of the child from the time of the child's birth, like heterosexual married couples.
The same is theoretically true in California and Vermont, which grant legal parent status to partners of birth parents when a child is born during a domestic partnership or civil union. However, attorneys in Massachusetts (and in California and Vermont) continue to recommend that same-sex partners complete step-parent adoptions on behalf of the non-biological parent. The adoption serves as extra protection if the parties travel to a state that doesn't recognize same-sex relationships, and also means that the federal government should recognize the parent-child relationship for purposes of Social Security and other federal benefits. Without the adoption, these benefits would rely on the parent-child relationship created by the marriage -- and the marriage is not recognized by the federal government.
For lesbian and gay couples in other states, both parents are not automatically considered legal parents. The second parent is not a legal parent and has few, if any, legal rights with regard to the child unless he or she has completed a second parent or step-parent adoption.
If you and your partner are in this situation, it's smart to know the laws that affect you. and to make a parenting agreement setting out your understanding about sharing rights and responsibilities for your child. Doing so now may prevent considerable legal and emotional grief down the road.
Know Your Local Laws
Because it is essential that you know your local laws before you decide to raise a child together, we strongly recommend that you seek legal advice when you are considering parenting. Search out gay and lesbian parenting groups in your state. If you don't know where to start, try the Queer Resources Directory (http://www.qrd.org), which includes many parenting sites, or see our adoption listings. The following organizations can also provide you with information and, quite possibly, a referral to a good lawyer in your area: The National Center for Lesbian Rights (http://www.nclrights.org), the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund (http://www.lambdalegal.org), and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (http://www.glad.org).
Types of Adoption
Depending on the type of adoption gay and lesbian parents are interested in -- public, private, independent, open or international -- there may be different considerations involved in disclosing sexual orientation. How open prospective adoptive parents are about their homosexuality depends upon the couple's personal feelings on disclosure, whether direct questions are asked, and what the laws in the state of residency are.
One important point for all prospective adoptive parents to be aware of is the difference between not sharing private information, and deliberately lying at any time in the adoption process. Although it is completely legal to omit information regarding homosexuality, it is illegal to lie about it when confronted directly. Failing to tell the truth during the adoption process is considered fraud, and raises the chance that the adoption will be halted or at least disrupted.
Public Agency Adoption
For prospective gay and lesbian parents, success in adopting from the public child welfare system depends on the state adoption law and t he attitude of the agency. For example, in New York and California, gay and lesbian prospective adoptive parents are protected against discrimination. It is illegal for public agencies in those states to reject adoptive parents on the basis of sexual orientation. However, that is not a guarantee that prejudices don't exist. Social workers who are uncomfortable with homosexuality may find the prospective adoptive parents unsuitable for other reasons.
Each state decides independently who can adopt. Since the final decision is made by judges at the county level, the availability of adoption as an option to openly gay and lesbian couples is influenced by the political and social community in which the family lives. The court's decision hinges on the "best interest" of the child, a concept interpreted differently by different judges.
Private Agency Placements
Private agencies establish their own criteria for the prospective adoptive parents. Age, religion, fertility status, marital status and sexual orientation all may be agency considerations. Some private agencies may disregard sexual orientation and will present the prospective parent as a single adopter who lives with another adult who will share the responsibilities of raising the child. This omission of sexual orientation is based on the agency's judgment and relevancy to the applicant's parenting qualifications.
Independent and Open Adoption
An independent adoption is an adoption facilitated by those other than caseworkers associated with an agency. The facilitator may be a physician, an attorney, or other intermediary. In an independent adoption the placement decision (within the provisions of the state statute) is completely up to the families involved. However, independent adoption does not necessarily mean an open adoption. An open adoption involves some amount of initial and/or ongoing contact between birth and adoptive families. The adoptive and birth parents agree upon the birth parents' role, future communications, and the degree of openness prior to adoption. Being honest with the birth parents from the first contact allows gay and lesbian adoptive parents the opportunity to have a relationship without the possibility of a disrupting secret.
Adopting a child from a foreign country may involve finding an agency willing to accept the adoptive parents' sexual orientation, disclosing the information to the contacts in the sending country, and presenting the information to the foreign government. However, conservative or religious countries (and often developing countries) may not be as receptive to gay and lesbian couples. Adoptive parents need to be aware that foreign governments and courts are making placement decisions based on their cultural standards and what they feel is in the best interest of the child.
Life After Adoption
For gay and lesbian adoptive parents, unique concerns do not end when the adoption is finalized. Following are things for gay and lesbian parents to keep in mind after adoption.
Explaining Sexuality to Children
All families at one time or another will have "the" discussion on sexuality. For gay and lesbian families this can be an even more sensitive subject.
However, a healthy family, regardless of sexual orientation, shares the same core values -- love and respect, commitment and understanding. It is especially important when talking with children to stress what these values mean to the family, and to recognize that there are many different cultures, communities and families around the world.
The Family Pride Coalition, a national advocacy and support organization, offers several suggestions for parents discussing sexuality with their children: Be honest about your own identity and comfort level.
If you are uncomfortable, let your children know you find this hard to talk about, but that you feel it is important for families to talk about difficult things.
Listen closely to your child, and when possible let your children take the lead. Let them ask questions. Take cues about their level of understanding from the questions they ask, and interact at that level.
Be as clear as you can be about your own feelings connected to sexuality, coming out, privacy, and family values.
Consider your child's age and how much information they need.
Once an adoption is completed, the business of family life begins. Like all adoptive parents, gay men and lesbians are seeking ways to incorporate their children into their lives and to help them make a smooth transition. They also want to meet other homosexuals who have taken on the challenge of parenting. There are a growing number of support groups to meet these needs.
Len and Fernando, a multi-ethnic gay couple who adopted 3-year-old Isabel as a toddler, are members of an active group in the Philadelphia area. "Speaking to the parents of older children gives us ideas of how to cope with issues as they come up. Most of the members are women. We could use a few more men! "
Isabel, who is African-American, has the chance to meet other African-American adopted children and enjoys the many activities planned for families. Their group is part of a larger support network, Philadelphia Family Pride, that serves more than 250 gay and lesbian families in the Delaware Valley. In addition to giving its members a chance to socialize, the group's advocacy and educational projects encourage parents to work with teachers on adoption, race, and alternative family issues that affect their children. Members participate in conferences, receive local and national newsletters, and learn about books and articles for themselves and their children. Older children of gay parents have formed their own network, COLAGE -- Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere.
A vital support network of family and friends is important for any family -- adoptive, biological, one with heterosexual parents, or one with homosexual parents. Some gay and lesbian adoptive parents have found that even if their parents had a difficult time accepting their homosexuality, the parents readily accept their new role as grandparents. It is almost as if having children makes them more like mainstream families. "Our parents reacted to our desire to parent pretty much the same way they reacted to our coming out, "says Tim Fisher, father of two and former Executive Director of the Family Pride Coalition (presently the Family Equality Council). "They said, 'We love you...but let's not talk about it.' With the kids, they have softened their tone a little. They are grandparents who adore their grandchildren."
From the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services)
STEPS TO ADOPTION/FOSTER CARE:
- Make a list of adoption agencies in your area.
Call each agency to inquire about the adoption services they offer. Check out their websites. Fill out an inquiry form available on most agency internet web sites so you can receive a call back from an agency representative. Be prepared to provide your name (and partner or spouse's name if applicable), address, phone number, occupation, income level, others residing in the home, plans for childcare, doctor visits, etc. When speaking with an agency representative, you may be asked some general information questions such as: what is the bedroom space available in your home for a child? Do you own or rent? Or do you have a swimming pool or spa, which is fenced or covered? Foster Adoptive Parents are required to have a criminal record clearance, a child abuse clearance and Federal Bureau of Investigations clearance. If obtaining a clearance will be an issue, let the agency know. These questions are routine and will identify potential barriers to adoption (unfenced pool, construction in the home, serious criminal record, etc.).
- Attend an Information Meeting (also known as an Orientation) at one or more foster/adoption agencies.
Take with you a list of questions. Your questions might include: fees and costs (if any) and if they are refundable, the ages and types of children placed with families, how the children are placed with families, support groups and services, basic requirements for approval including training/parenting classes, documentation and home study (family assessment), general policies (taking child on vacation, social worker accessibility, what happens during a home study, training requirements, home space requirements, pool fencing issues, etc.). Note the ambiance of the agency or the demeanor of the facilitator and if your questions are answered patiently and respectfully. Initial contact is important because it reflects how the agency interacts with clients and if the agency is able to meet your needs. Promptly returned phone calls, etc., reflects probable predictable future interactions.
- Once you have chosen an agency, obtain an application at the information meeting or download it from the website.
Fill it out and return it to the agency.
- Do some soul searching.
How much time do you have to spend with a child? Are you open to one child or a sibling group? What age child(ren) do you hope to parent and would you consider an older child? Are you open to some of the unique issues for children in the foster care system such as life experiences, birth family relationships, educational and/or therapeutic needs? Can you take time off work for medical, dental, therapy appointments or social worker visits? Flexibility is one of the most important indicators of successful parenting. Go through some "what if" scenarios and review possible solutions to the issues.
- Attend the pre-certification training sessions.
Once your application is reviewed and you are accepted into the program, you will be invited to attend the agency's pre-certification training/ parenting sessions. The trainings will give you the opportunity to become familiar with the foster care system and important issues that can arise after a child or sibling group is placed in your home. The trainings cover a variety of topics that include information on foster care and adoption, attachment, grief and loss, separation, discipline, the impact of abuse and neglect on children, birth family connections and trans-racial placements.
- Complete the Home Study (Family Assessment) with your assigned social worker.
A Home Study, also known as a Family Assessment, is a written narrative of your family, that is completed during the pre-certification process and before a child is placed in your home. A social worker from the foster/adoption agency is assigned to the prospective foster adoptive family to complete individual (or couple) interviews. All family members residing in the home participate in the Family Assessment. The Family Assessment is a compilation of information about the prospective foster adoptive family, gathered during the interviews. It is the way the social worker gets to know your personal and family background. Expect to discuss areas such as your education, motivation for foster/adoption, time available for parenting, general lifestyle, relationship history, religious preference, previous parenting experience (if any), support system, job history, and child desired. This information will be used to approve you as a foster/adoptive family and make good matches between you and a child(ren). The Family Assessment will include a safety walkthrough of the home. The social worker will help you to identify any changes that need to be completed before a child may be placed with you. Any issues that may be barriers to approving your family will also be addressed during the Family Assessment.
- Approval as a Foster/Adoptive Family.
Once all of your documents are received and your Family Assessment is complete, your family is ready to be approved and certified for foster/ adoption. Then the process of making a match between you and a child begins.
- A Child(ren) is Placed in Your Home.
After your family is certified, the process of identifying a child for your family begins. Children are placed with families either on an emergency basis (through foster care) or through a lengthier process known as "matching" for those families interested in adoption. Foster care placements generally happen fast and with little known information at the time of placement. Matching involves a series of meetings which allows the child(ren) to be transitioned into your home. During the matching process, and prior to meeting the children, you will learn a great deal about the child's background, specific needs, birth family and medical history. Once you decide that this is an appropriate "match" for you, there will be a transitioning period prior to the child moving into your home. Most cases involve some pre-placement daytime visits, followed by overnights in your home. Every child is different, every case is unique, and there are very few absolutes. The child may have lived in many previous homes before coming to live with you. Utilize the opportunity to get to know the child and for the child to get to know you. The goal is to be prepared for the joys, as well as the challenges, of parenting a foster/adoptive child.