New bill seeks end to adoption bias

Pete Stark

Hundreds of thousands of children are in foster care in the United States, while discrimination prevents millions of willing LGBT people from being able to foster or adopt. U.S. Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) reintroduced a bill on May 3 that aims to fix that discrepancy.

Each year, there are approximately 500,000 children in the United States foster care system—over 100,000 of whom are waiting for adoptive homes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 2007, 25,000 youth “aged out” of the foster care system without ever finding permanent homes.

At the same time, over two million gay and lesbian adults are ready and willing to adopt a child, according to a 2007 study by the Williams Institute of UCLA. The study also found that over 14,000 children were already in foster placements with LGB parents, and 65,000 had been adopted by LGB parents. In total, 1 million LGBT parents are raising approximately 2 million children in the country.

But one-third of child welfare agencies in the country rejected applicants because they were LGB, according to a 2006 report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

Rep. Stark’s “Every Child Deserves a Family Act,” which was introduced with 33 original cosponsors, would withhold federal adoption and foster care assistance funds from states that discriminate against LGBT people in foster placements or adoption. Individuals seeking redress under the law would have access to federal courts.

It would also require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to assist states and child welfare agencies in identifying discriminatory laws, regulations, and practices, and to provide guidance on the Act for judges and attorneys that handle foster care and adoption cases, along with “comprehensive cultural competency training” for agencies and prospective parents.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has said she will introduce a companion bill in the Senate.

Linda Spears, vice president of Policy and Public Affairs for the Child Welfare League of America, was one of several child welfare experts and family policy advocates who attended a press conference to introduce the Stark bill. She said in a statement, “We must support all qualified adults who are interested in providing a nurturing, adoptive home—regardless of their marital status or sexual orientation. Having a real live, caring parent is incredibly important for ensuring a child’s success.”

According to estimates in the bill, increasing adoption rates, in addition to establishing permanency and decreasing risk factors for foster youth, could yield annual national cost savings between $3.3 and $6.3 billion.

But legislative and court battles are now being waged in several states over whether gay and lesbian people—individually or as couples—should be allowed to adopt.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) signed a bill April 18 that gives a married man and woman “placement preference” in adoption over a single adult, if all other relevant factors are equal. Marriages of same-sex couples are not recognized in the state.

And the Virginia State Board of Social Services voted on April 20 to reject a proposal of former Governor Tim Kaine (D) that would have prohibited discrimination against potential adoptive parents on the basis of sexual orientation.

In Illinois, a state Senate committee narrowly killed a bill April 11 that would have allowed religiously affiliated child welfare agencies to refuse a person’s adoption or foster home application if the person was in a civil union.

Utah also has a legislative ban against adoption by unmarried couples. Mississippi has a ban on adoption by same-sex couples. And while Michigan has no statutory ban, state courts have ruled that unmarried individuals may not jointly petition to adopt.

In the courts, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled April 7 that the state’s ban on adoption by unmarried, cohabiting couples violated the state constitution. Last September, a Florida appeals court overturned that state’s ban on adoption by gay and lesbian individuals.

But the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled April 12 that the Louisiana state registrar did not violate the U.S. Constitution by refusing to issue a new birth certificate to a Louisiana-born child adopted in New York by a gay couple. Louisiana officials said to do so would violate the state’s public policy of not allowing joint adoptions by unmarried couples.

And although the majority of states do not have categorical bans on fostering or adoption by LGBT people, most lack policies prohibiting discrimination against them, according to a joint statement in support of the bill from the Family Equality Council, the National Black Justice Coalition and Parents, and Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, said in an interview that the bill is both “a stick and a carrot.” It will penalize states that have discriminatory placement practices, but it will also help educate practitioners “about being competent at understanding the issues that come with working with same-sex parents and placing kids in their homes.”

Chrisler said that because the bill is modeled after the 1994 Multiethnic Placement Act—which prohibits entities receiving federal funds from engaging in racial and ethnic discrimination when making placement decisions—“we think we have a good chance of its passage.”

She added, “It is an incredible vehicle for us to be on the Hill, talking to our elected officials about the issues that LGBT people face in creating and forming their families, and more importantly, the child welfare crisis we have in this country.”

David Hansell, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services, also attended the bill’s introductory press conference. His administration issued a memo April 6 encouraging child welfare agencies to better serve the needs of “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth” in the foster care system, and calling LGBT prospective parents “a largely untapped resource” for providing foster or adoptive homes to LGBTQ young people.

One Response to New bill seeks end to adoption bias

  1. […] U.S. Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) reintroduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act that would withhold federal funds from states that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation […]

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