I have worked with many a social worker who has personally believed that outcomes for children are greatly affected by same-sex parenting and have therefore avoided the route of pursuing gay adoption as best they could
When compared to teens of the same age, adolescents raised by lesbian parents are doing just fine socially, psychologically and academically, new research finds. Not only that, they have fewer social problems, and less aggressive and rule-breaking behaviors than other teens.
Since its launch in 1997 by the BAAF, NAW has grown and become stronger each year, reaching people across the UK wanting to know if they are eligible for adoption.
Events are being organised across the UK as part of the country’s first-ever LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week. It comes as gay adopters and foster carers are being hailed by social workers for their significant strengths in a survey commissioned by New Family Social, the LGBT network coordinating the week.
I have worked with many a social worker who has personally believed that outcomes for children are greatly affected by same-sex parenting and have therefore avoided the route of pursuing gay adoption as best they could. The problem that we have is that if we don't actively picket, support and encourage gay and lesbian couples to adopt it will never become the 'norm'. It is however immensely difficult to keep an eye on such a closed system; working under a cosh of absolute confidence it is virtually impossible for us on the outside to hold homophobic professionals to account.
There are currently country 4000 children in need of adoption in the UK.
These are children that have been removed from their parents due to being at 'risk of significant harm'. We have all recently watched the trial of social workers by press with cases such as Baby P which just puts people off involving themselves in a system that appears clearly out of control.
But if you decide that caring for a child within the system is how you want to start or indeed complete your family, as a gay or lesbian what are your right? The Adoption and Children Act came into force in 2002 informing our rights when it comes to starting a family. In England and Wales gay and lesbian couples are allowed to adopt jointly. In Northern Ireland the Adoption Order 1987 prohibits this only allowing single or married couples to adopt but gays and lesbians can foster. In Scotland regulations prohibit unrelated, unmarried adults of the same sex in a household from being foster carers, which, therefore excludes gay and lesbian couples, creating any kind of caring environment for a child in the care system.
The British Association of Fostering and Adoption (BAAF) have provided me with the practice notes that are to be used when assessing potential lesbian and gay foster or adoptive parents. After the legal listings detailing where gay and lesbian couples are not allowed to adopt or foster it states: ' This note should should be read in the context that there are many gay and lesbian parents- single and in couples - successfully raising birth children and adopted children [...] Many fostering agencies having skilled gay and lesbian carers who are providing both 'mainstream' placements and placements for children and young people with a variety of special needs.'
Without wanting to belittle what the BAAF do (trying to navigate one of the biggest white elephants in public care) it has to be said that their practice guidelines read in a tone that is patronising throughout. These although available available to the general public are not made for us to read resulting in their Mary Whitehouse tone educating social workers on how to deal with the legal situation that arises when homosexuals want to care for children.
Most interestingly states that: ' To date there are no UK-based comparative studies on the outcomes for children fostered or adopted by lesbians and gay men. Agencies therefore have no access to a robust UK research base to develop policy and practice in lesbian and gay carers and adopters.' This would indicate that a priority it is not. They have made strict separate legislation for us without the research to justify the crowbar separation.
However, the US has championed a smattering of adoption and fostering research. In 2001 a research team Stacey and Biblarz reviewed twenty years worth of gay and lesbian parenting research and found that it was flawed because some commentators have selectively referenced research findings to support preconceived conclusions.
So can you be legally discriminated against on the grounds of your sexuality when it comes to fostering and adoption?
The short answer to a convoluted question is 'Yes'. If you decide to go through a private voluntary agency they can restrict recruitment on the grounds of 'strict eligibility criteria' eg their religious beliefs, but don't worry the BAAF state that if necessary they will refer you to another agency.
That is the queer loop hole and as we have recently realised on account of the details splashed around the press of MPs shopping lists, the law is full of them.
Statutory agencies have to adhere to the National Minimum Standards for the Local Authority Adoption Services in both England and Wales where they have to sign up to an endorsed equal opportunities statement acknowledging that they are not to discriminate unlawfully against you and your partner.
In 2001 a man took Portugal to the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that they had breached his personal rights in denying him parental responsibility of a child on the grounds of his homosexuality. The ECHR upheld this decision setting the precedent that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a breach of human rights.
However, are you ready for the European loop hole? This judgement does not count if evidence indicates that the homosexuality of a parent does in fact adversely affect the child.
Gay men have for years had a bad rap in the press which in 1999 was enforced by the National Gay Men's Sex Survey. This survey is referenced as evidence that promiscuity is a characteristic of gay relationships. The study reported that over 70 percent of respondents had slept with more than one male partner in the previous year. The BAAF have now decided that the findings should not be appropriated to the wider UK population of gay men but it does indicate that lesbian and gay adopters have been coming from a position of stereotype and deficit for many years.
This would support the findings of researcher Hicks who found in 2000 that: 'Many lesbians and gay men have reported feeling expected to have to prove themselves to be as good as heterosexual carers.'
When I asked BAAF whether they thought that gay and lesbian carers were treated equally or given enough support in the system their response was standard and lukewarm: 'Great efforts are being made in this area but there is still work to be done.' I was surprised that they didn't take the opportunity to speak directly to the LGBT population and allay some of our concerns and fears, and detail how they are making it better for us and what their plans for the future are. Instead all I received were stock responses that left me unenlightened as to how the equilibrium of rights is to be addressed.
Addressing the common concern that a child being raised by a same-sex couple is more likely to be homosexual has been largely poo-pooed by the BAAF with the caveat: ' It is nonetheless to be expected that children who grow up in an environment where homosexuality is regarded as acceptable and understandable will be more open to the possibility of same-sex relationships for themselves and others.'
Ultimately the BAAF veto's the idea that same-sex parents should be discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation and that all couples should be assessed equally. However, as you can see legally it is a bumpy road that left a very bitter after taste. Scattered through the legislation and guidelines on how to deal with adoption and fostering were constant sign posts that operated as 'get out of jail free' cards just in case they have got it wrong and gay and lesbian people are actually detrimental to a child's holistic health. There has been no definitive research that states gay and lesbian parenting places children at risk but it is certainly still not seen as normal or in many cases acceptable. As an adoption can indeed proceed or stall on the basis of a social workers recommendation there is a danger that an individuals subjectivity and prejudice can impact upon the outcome, a situation that I have seen firsthand.
There is a massive inequality in our equality, I have spoken to countless gay and lesbian parents who feel that they have been side-lined, not taken seriously or viewed with suspicion at the decision to try and provide a home for a child in need and unfortunately my experiences working in this area bare this out.
There are however, many groups that will support gays and lesbians through the fostering and adoption process but it is up to us as a community to stay vigilant and expose the discrimination that we may be subjected to within the system.
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