Same-sex couples have raised children together throughout human history, sometimes as the biological child of one parent, other times as someone that both parents decided to adopt. However, that didn’t mean that these families were legally recognized.
Historically, the idea of legal same-sex adoption has been about as controversial as the idea of same-sex marriage. As recently as 2007, a CNN survey found that 40% of respondents felt that same-sex couples shouldn’t have the right to adopt. Even today same-sex adoption is not legal in all states, including Mississippi and Ohio.
But the world is changing. Now that same-sex marriage is legal nationwide, more and more people are recognizing the same-sex families that have always been there.
“We receive phone calls from tentative LGBT individuals who are nervous about taking the first step and fearful of being rejected by an agency, but we can honestly assure them that they will be welcomed to the process by any agency they contact,” said Diane Tomaz, director of the Massachusetts Adoption Research Exchange (MARE), a private nonprofit that serves as the central link between families interested in adoption, the state Department of Children and Families (DCF), and its contracted adoption agencies. “Moreover, we find that social workers know and appreciate the strengths of LGBT families. They make a thoughtful, informed decision to adopt, it is often their first method of starting or building a family, they often feel comfortable adopting children of another race, and they may even understand what it means to feel rejected or abandoned by a birth family.”
Karen Gemeinhardt, adoption supervisor for The Home for Little Wanderers, was similarly in favor of same-sex adoption, but felt there were still obstacles facing same-sex couples. “DCF is doing very well in educating and monitoring workers regarding any prejudices about GLBTQ adoption, but there are still some offices that prefer traditional families. The last difficulty I encountered in trying to place a child with a lesbian family was a little over five years ago.”
According to DCF officials: “DCF welcomes adoptive parents regardless of family make-up. Finding a stable and loving permanent home where a child can thrive is our highest priority.”
The Department’s non-discrimination policy states that no one can be denied as an adoptive parent on the basis of sexual orientation.
Difficulties seem to stem from old prejudices, such as fearing that children raised by same-sex couples will become gay themselves, concern that a child needs a mother and a father, or even concerns about gay men secretly being child molesters, according to Tomaz. These are claims that have been refuted numerous times by groups such as the American Psychiatric Association, whose studies have shown that children raised by same-sex couples are as well-adjusted as any other children.
Gay men who want to adopt as single parents seem to have the most biases working against them. “Because of the age-old stereotype that men cannot parent as well as women, it is probably most onerous for single gay males who want to adopt,” Tomaz said. “They have to work against society’s negative perception of fathers, single parents, and gay men.”
Happily, being raised by a same-sex couple seems to rarely be an issue for the adopted children themselves.
“There have been issues among foster children, but more often than not children are parroting what they have heard and testing for a reaction,” Gemeinhardt explained. “More often the foster children have questions because living with a gay or lesbian family is new to them…a parent’s confidence helps them embrace their new family dynamic once they see and feel they are cared for.”
Adds Tomaz: “Most children are vocal about wanting a family with a dog or a swimming pool and [are]typically less adamant about the constellation of that family…That said, this is a child-centered process and if a child is uncomfortable with a family, they have the option to say no to being adopted by them.”
As far as the adoption process goes, prospective LGBT parents have very similar experiences to straight and cisgender applicants. They must go through very thorough screening processes and learn how to handle the painful experiences their new children may have been through.
One adoptive parent, Matt Donnelly, described his experience: “During the classes you are creating a ‘Home Study’ with the social worker,” he said. “They are looking at your individual parenting style and emotional state in the process. You actually have to write a detailed synopsis of your upbringing, how you were parented, psycho-social family history, your feelings about discipline and parenting in general; it is a very introspective document of your potential for parenting.”
Agencies may also ask additional questions to make sure the applicant is completely out and comfortable with their identity. It serves as a way of seeing how the applicant has dealt with difficult and stressful situations in the past. Also, as Gemeinhardt pointed out: “Kids will out their parents in a second! Parents need to be confident and open. They need to be able to present themselves comfortably and without hostility, etc., in the face of potential discrimination, especially as related to their children. Their own sexual identity needs to be a non-issue for them in order to help their children should someone else have an issue with ‘who their parents are.’”
With the growing prevalence of agencies and resources for LGBT adoptive parents, it appears as if legal same-sex adoption is only going to become more common and accepted in the world. The next major fight for equality may be in gaining more acceptance specifically for transgender parents.
“I think [the trouble transgender people face when adopting] has a lot to do with lack of accurate information and societal misconceptions about what transgendered means,” Gemeinhardt agreed. “Transgender families face the potential for transphobia in the department similar to what lesbian and gay families faced about 5 to 10 years ago. Here is where education and experience will help.”
Circle of Friends
Wednesday, Oct. 7 — Northern Region Adoption Info Meetings, Jordan’s Furniture Reading: IMAX Conference Room - 50 Walker’s Brook Dr., Reading. 6 p.m. RSVP: 978-557-2734.
Thursday, Oct. 8 — Adoption Learn and Play Group, Emerson Hospital, Concord. 9:30 a.m.-11 a.m. A support and education group for parents with adopted children age 5 and under. This month’s topic: “Keeping Our Children Safe.” RSVP to 978-287-0221.
Thursday, Oct. 8 — Family Support Group, Jordan’s Furniture Reading: IMAX Conference Room - 50 Walker’s Brook Dr., Reading. 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Open to families from all regions who are waiting, matched, or placed with a child. This is safe space for families to share their thoughts on the adoption process and receive guidance and support from other families. RSVP to 978-337-6500.
Thursday, Oct. 15 — We are Family: A Post-Adoption Support Group. First Connections, on the Emerson Hospital Campus, Route 2, Concord.
A monthly support and education group for parents who are caring for foster children, have adopted a child at age 3 or older, or whose adopted child is now over age 5. 7 p.m.-9 p.m. For more information contact facilitator Mary Rowlinson at 978-287-0221 x218.
Thursday, Oct. 15— Southern Region Adoption Info Meetings, Morton Hospital, 88 Washington Street, Taunton, Margaret Stone Conference Room, first floor. 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. RSVP: 508-894-3830.
Monday, Oct. 19 — Southern Region Adoption Info Meetings, Mass. Department of Children and Families, Canton Police Station, 1492 Washington Street, Canton. 6 p.m.-8 p.m. RSVP to 508-894-3830.
Wednesday, Oct. 21 — Boston Region Adoption Info Meeting, DCF Boston, 451 Blue Hill Avenue, Dorchester. 4 p.m.-5:30 p.m. 617-989-9209.
Ongoing — Federation for Children with Special Needs Parent Trainings. Free and open to the public, these trainings cover a range of topics: Effective Communication and the IEP, Basic Rights in Special Education, Understanding My Child’s Learning Style, and more. Visit fcsn.org/ptic/workshops/schedule for a schedule and descriptions.
Ongoing — Group for Adoptive Parents. Adoption Associates, 34 Lincoln Street, Newton. For parents of children in elementary or middle school, this monthly group focuses on understanding the impact of loss and trauma; learning to manage difficult and challenging behaviors; strengthening the family bond while preserving identity; and more. For more information, contact 617-965-9369 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ongoing — Group for Adopted Teens. Adoption Associates, 34 Lincoln Street, Newton. For adopted children ages 14-19, this group focuses on identity development, self-esteem improvement, confidence building and communication skills. Participants will use conversation to reflect upon the experience of adoption and belonging. For more information, contact 617-965-9369 or email@example.com.
Ongoing — Group for Adoptive Parents of Teens. Adoption Associates, 34 Lincoln Street, Newton. This monthly group focuses on understanding the impact of loss and trauma on children ages 14-19; learning to manage difficult and challenging behaviors; strengthening the family bond while preserving identity; and more. For more information, contact 617-965-9369 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ongoing — The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children offers an after-hours telephone hotline that provides emergency assistance to foster kinship and pre-adoptive families when the DCF offices are closed. The helpline is available 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays and 24 hours on weekends and holidays. The number is (800) 486-3730.
If your group or organization is holding an adoption information or support group and would like to have information posted for readers of baystateparent, please email email@example.com.