The backlog of children in the Texas foster care system awaiting placement with a foster family has been front and center in recent debates about how to best reform the state’s child welfare system.
News reports of children sleeping in the offices of Child Protective Services caseworkers has led many people to question why there is such a critical shortage of foster families across the state. Despite this awareness, many agencies who recruit and license foster parents have little desire to work with gays and lesbians interested in becoming foster parents.
Research overwhelmingly suggests that children raised by gays and lesbians are just as healthy, happy and successful as children raised by heterosexual parents.
Gay and lesbians can be especially effective in providing loving and supportive homes for children in foster care. In many cases, gay and lesbian parents have dealt with stigma and discrimination related to their own identity that is very similar to the stigma and discrimination that comes with being a foster youth. These mutual experiences can create a home environment that is affirming, sensitive and empathic.
In addition, gay and lesbian foster parents are much more likely to take youth into their homes who have historically been more difficult to find stable placements for, including teens of color, LGBTQ youth and large siblings groups. Over half of children who are adopted by gays and lesbians have special needs. Also, nearly 60 percent of gays and lesbians adopt or foster youth across race.
Perhaps there is no group of youth in the state’s foster care system more adversely impacted by the shortage of gay and lesbian foster parents than LGBTQ youth, who are disproportionately overrepresented in the foster care system. Though we don’t know exactly how many teens in the state’s foster care system identify as LGBTQ, a UCLA study estimates that LGBTQ youth make up between 18-20 percent of teens in the nation’s foster care system.
The overrepresentation of LGBTQ youth is largely attributed to the rejection, abuse and hostility that they experience from their families of origin. Although many LGBTQ youth enter the foster care system as a result of the maltreatment they experience at home, many are subject to further maltreatment and instability once placed in foster care. An LGBTQ child in a foster care placement today is nearly three times more likely for that placement to end in disruption than heterosexual child.
Many of the obstacles that LGBTQ youth in the foster care system encounter can be attributed to the rejection that they experience from foster parents whose religious and ideological convictions are at odds with providing accepting and affirming care. This is especially troubling given recent research published by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that LGBTQ youth with rejecting families or foster families are nearly eight times more likely to be suicidal, six times more likely to be depressed, and over three times more likely to engage in risky sex associated with HIV infection. In many cases, gay and lesbian families are especially equipped to provide the affirming and competent care that LGBTQ youth need to feel safe, accepted and stable in their placements.
Given the fact that same-sex couples routinely provide loving and affirming care to children and teens — especially those who are among the most vulnerable and difficult to place — intentional efforts should be made to recruit more gay and lesbian families as opposed to efforts that create added barriers and obstacles.
It is estimated that nearly half of all gay and lesbian adults desire to be parents at some point. State officials and child welfare organizations should consider looking at gay and lesbian families as an untapped resource in meeting the critical needs of our state’s most vulnerable youth.
By Adam McCormick
McCormick is an assistant professor of social work at St. Edward’s University