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Adoption by Lesbians and Gay MenA New Dimension in Family Diversity$

David M. Brodzinsky and Adam Pertman

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195322606

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195322606.001.0001

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Supporting Gay and Lesbian Adoptive Families Before and After Adoption

Supporting Gay and Lesbian Adoptive Families Before and After Adoption

Chapter:
(p.150) 8 Supporting Gay and Lesbian Adoptive Families Before and After Adoption
Source:
Adoption by Lesbians and Gay Men
Author(s):

Devon Brooks

Hansung Kim

Leslie H. Wind

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195322606.003.0037

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter reviews the social and political context of gay and lesbian adoption. It describes common experiences that gay men and lesbians have as they journey toward and beyond adoptive parenthood. To address some of the gaps in empirical knowledge, it presents findings from a recently completed national study of adoptive families. The findings focus on the different service needs gay and lesbian families have before and after adoption, service use, and helpfulness of services used by families. Those involved in adoption practice with gay and lesbian families, as well as adoptive families themselves and the greater adoption community, should benefit from these findings.

Keywords:   lesbian and gay adoption, adoptive families, agency services, gay men, lesbian, adoptive parents, adoption practice

For decades, adoption by gay men and lesbians has been controversial. For both the general public and adoption professionals, this controversy has stemmed sometimes from homophobia and at other times from arguably legitimate concerns about the impact of gay adoption on children (Brooks & Goldberg, 2001; Ryan, Pearlmutter, & Groza, 2004). Especially when it involves children in foster care, adoption practice is guided by the best interest standard of decision making (Ricketts, 1991; Ryan et al., 2004). This standard requires adoption professionals to base recommendations and placement decisions primarily on the best interests of an individual child rather than on the rights, needs, or wishes of adults. The standard, which serves as a professional (and moral) compass of sorts, has its roots in the parens patriae doctrine—the notion that the state is the supreme guardian of all children within its jurisdiction and therefore has the power to intervene in order to protect those children (“Parens Patriae,” 2005).

Until recently, there was uncertainty about how gay and lesbian adoptive parents affect the adjustment and well-being of adopted children. A sizable body of research evidence, however, now shows that such parents—whether adoptive or biological—are as capable as straight parents of raising well-adjusted children, and that the sexual orientation of parents is not associated with children’s outcomes (Gartrell, Peyser, & Bos, this volume; Goldberg, 2010; Ryan & Brown, this volume, Patterson & Wainright, this volume). If anything, studies suggest that gay men and lesbians may bring special strengths to the table as adoptive parents (Brooks & Goldberg, 2001; Brooks, Halloway, & Kim, in preparation; Matthews & Cramer, 2006; National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, 2000). Given the research-based evidence, along with changes in societal demographics and mores, it is not surprising that there has been dramatically growing acceptance of gay adoption in (p.151) the United States and around the world (Brodzinsky, 2003; Brodzinsky, this volume; Brodzinsky, Patterson, & Vaziri, 2002; Mallon, this volume; Matthews & Cramer, 2006; Miall & March, 2005; Pertman & Howard, this volume).

Substantial research knowledge exists on adoption services and supports (Barth & Miller, 2000; Brooks, Allen, & Barth, 2002; Farber, Timberlake, Mudd, & Cullen, 2003; Kramer & Houston, 1998; Reilly & Platz, 2004; Wind, Brooks, & Barth, 2006), gay and lesbian parenting (Bigner & Bozett, 1990; Crawford, McLeod, Zamboni, & Jordan, 1999; Goldberg, 2010; Golombok & Tasker, 1996; Patterson, 1997), and gay and lesbian adoptive family functioning (Brooks & Goldberg, 2001; Brooks, Halloway, & Kim, in preparation; Erich, Leung, & Kindle, 2005; Farr, Forssell, & Patterson, 2010; Leung, Erich, & Kanenberg, 2005). There is even a small but growing knowledge base on informal social support for gay and lesbian adoptive and foster families (e.g., Kindle & Erich, 2005; Miall & March, 2005). Yet, to date, there has been no systematic investigation of the formal agency services that are needed and used by these families, the helpfulness of such services, or the relationship between services and various aspects of child and family functioning. As a result, adoption and child welfare professionals have little empirical knowledge to draw on when recruiting and preparing gay and lesbian parents for adoption, or when designing and providing supportive postadoption services.

This chapter offers a review of the social and political context of gay and lesbian adoption. It then describes common experiences that gay men and lesbians have as they journey toward and beyond adoptive parenthood. To address some of the gaps in empirical knowledge that are described above, the chapter also presents findings from a recently completed national study of adoptive families. The findings focus on the different service needs gay and lesbian families have before and after adoption, service use, and helpfulness of services used by families. Those involved in adoption practice with gay and lesbian families, as well as adoptive families themselves and the greater adoption community, should benefit from these findings.

The Social and Political Context of Gay and Lesbian Adoption

Gay and lesbian adoption is not a new phenomenon (Mallon, 2000; Ryan, Pearlmutter, & Groza, 2004). Although there is no single, definitive source on the number of such adoptions, it is believed that about 65,500 children are currently being raised in the United States by their gay or lesbian adoptive parents. Accounting for more than 4 percent of all adoptions, this is almost certainly an underestimate of the actual number of gay adoptions (for reasons discussed below). It is estimated that an additional two million gay, lesbian, or bisexual people are interested in adopting (Gates, Badgett, Macomber, & Chambers, 2007). At the same time, almost 115,000 children across the country are waiting to be adopted (AFCARS, 2010).

Traditionally, adoption agencies (including adoption and permanency planning units of public child welfare agencies) have looked to heterosexual, two-parent (p.152) or single-parent families as adoptive resources (Ryan et al., 2004). Over the past few decades, however, the types of individuals and relationships considered appropriate for potential adoptive parenthood have changed considerably; consequently, existing policies now reflect a more open attitude toward gay and lesbian adoptive parenting (Brodzinsky, this volume; Kenyon et al., 2003; Mallon, 2007, and this volume; Pertman & Howard, this volume). Federal law does not address whether gay and lesbian individuals or couples can adopt, nor are there uniform state standards. Instead, adoption practice is dictated by the statutes, agency regulations, and court opinions of each state (Appell, this volume; Howard & Freundlich, 2008; Kenyon et al., 2003; Pertman & Howard, this volume). Although all 50 states allow gay men and lesbians to adopt as single individuals,1 only four states—California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont—and the District of Columbia explicitly permit them to do so jointly. Eleven states and Washington, D.C., either implicitly or explicitly, state that sexual orientation cannot be used to prevent an adoption. Mississippi explicitly prohibits same-sex couples from adopting but leaves open the question of adoption by single lesbians and gays. Utah and Arkansas prohibit adoption by couples who are not legally married, effectively preventing gay and lesbian couples from adopting (although single gay men and lesbians can adopt as long as they are not cohabitating in nonmarital relationships) (Arkansas Code Annotated § 9–9-204; Utah Code Ann. § 78–30-1 et seq.).1 All other states determine who can and cannot adopt on a case-by-case basis (Ryan et al., 2004). At present, legislators in several other states, including Alabama, Alaska, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Ohio, have introduced or are planning to introduce measures to end gay adoption (Ryan & Brown, this volume) within their borders.

Adoption Recruitment, Assessment, and Supportt

Beyond legislative hurdles, prospective gay and lesbian adopters routinely experience service-related challenges. These challenges are related to recruitment and assessment of prospective gay and lesbian adoptive families, including being matched with a specific child or type of child. Most investigations of gay and lesbian adoption have revolved around its appropriateness as a placement option for children in need of permanent homes. Notwithstanding the lack of federal and empirical guidance, adoption and child welfare agencies are charged with identifying and providing safe and loving homes for available children, and findings from recent studies suggest that agencies generally are willing to place children with gay and lesbian adoptive families. Brodzinsky, Patterson, and Vaziri (2002) conducted the first nationwide survey of adoption agencies’ policies and practices in relation to working with gay and lesbian prospective adoptive parents. Approximately 63 percent of respondents in their study indicated that their agencies accepted applications from gay and lesbian individuals and couples. (p.153) Most agencies, however, do not appear to actively and aggressively recruit gay men and lesbians as adoptive parents. In some instances, they operate under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Only 16 percent of the agencies in the study by Brodzinsky and his colleagues (2002), for instance, reported reaching out to the lesbian and gay communities as a parenting resource for children needing adoptive homes. Similar findings are reported by Brodzinsky in this volume.

Despite reported openness at the agency level, available evidence suggests that gay men and lesbians interested in becoming adoptive parents continue to be overlooked, underappreciated, and discriminated against by the social workers, professionals, or judges they encounter as they attempt to adopt (Mallon, 2006, and this volume; Brooks & Goldberg, 2001). When conducting assessments and making decisions about the appropriateness of prospective adopters, all states allow the professionals involved in the placement of children to apply the “best interest of the child” standard. These professionals are responsible for assessing the strengths and needs of prospective adoptive families and the match between the short- and long-term needs of individual children awaiting adoptive placement.

As suggested by Ryan et al. (2004), the capacity of professionals to objectively and fully assess parenting ability among a range of family types may be limited. Rather than applying objective decision-making criteria, social workers’ values, previous experience, and subjective judgment of particular families seem to drive approval and placement decisions. Furthermore, hidden or ambiguous policies provide no uniform guidance to staff, encourage individual interpretations of laws and regulations, and create misinformation among workers. Mallon (2000) points out that many adoption and child welfare professionals, ill-trained by schools of social work or the agencies in which they work, still hold firm to a belief system that is grounded in numerous negative myths and stereotypes about gay men and lesbians. These attitudes and beliefs are assumed to have a major effect on the professionals’ work, including their assessment of nonheterosexuals as potential adoptive parents.

To assist adoption and child welfare professionals in their work with prospective gay and lesbian adopters, Mallon (2007) suggests that these applicants be assessed using the same criteria as for straight applicants (see also Mallon, this volume). Although they may present unique situations, Mallon further suggests that gay and lesbian applicants should not have to pass extraordinary tests to prove they are worthy and capable of adoptive parenting. Each placement decision should be based, instead, on the strengths and needs of the child and the perceived ability of the prospective adoptive family to meet those needs and to further develop the child’s strengths. Such an approach is consistent with gay affirmative practice, a strengths-based, culturally sensitive approach to working with clients that recognizes lesbian and gay identity and behavior as healthy (Crisp, 2006).

Agencies and professionals engaging in culturally sensitive practices encourage prospective gay and lesbian adopters to be open and up-front about their sexual orientation. This enables the strengths and needs of the prospective adoptive families to be assessed early in the adoption process. Agencies known to reject applications by gay men and lesbians or that operate under an informal “don’t ask, (p.154) don’t tell” policy obviously discourage openness in the process. Brooks and Goldberg (2001) warn that these kinds of policies have very real implications for practice and for children. Social workers who do not ask about sexual orientation and related issues may not invite gay and lesbian parents to acknowledge and address the unique challenges of raising children in their households. This effectively precludes adoption professionals from accurately assessing a prospective family’s ability to raise a given child and the suitability of a particular placement.

Brooks and Goldberg (2001) go on to argue that if gay and lesbian prospective adoptive parents are expected to acknowledge and discuss their sexual orientation, it is imperative for the professionals they are working with to assure them that doing so will not jeopardize their chances of having a child placed with them or determine the type of child placed with them. Indeed, findings from Brooks and Goldberg’s study and others (Kenyon et al., 2003; Matthews & Cramer, 2006) indicate that gay and lesbian prospective adopters are regularly discriminated against when being matched with specific children or types of children. In particular, these prospective parents reportedly tend to be matched more often with children who have disabilities or behavioral problems, are older, and/or are of nondominant cultural and ethnic backgrounds (regardless of the prospective parents’ backgrounds). Kenyon et al. (2003) maintain that the informal practice of matching gay and lesbian parents with the most difficult, special needs, or “less preferred” children is indeed a form of discrimination as it denies choice on the part of the prospective adopters.

Other than these aspects of adoption practice, there has been very little attention in the professional literature to preadoption services and supports for gay and lesbian adoptive parents. There is also a dearth of information about the postadoption service needs of these families. Adopting a child can be stressful for any parent, as it involves changes in the financial, cultural and family system expectations. For gay and lesbian adopters, these stresses can be exacerbated by homophobic and heterosexist societal attitudes. Individuals facing taxing life situations fare much better if they have social support. More specifically, family social support has been identified as a key factor in adoptive family coping and functioning (Brodzinsky, 1990; Ji, Brooks, Barth, & Kim, 2010; Patterson, 2002; Pinderhughes, 1996). Higher levels of perceived social support have been associated with higher adopter satisfaction and improved parent–child interactions. In studies of the adoptions of children with special needs, in particular, higher levels of perceived social support seem to provide a protective buffer effect throughout the family life course (Elizur & Ziv, 2001).

Although most adoptions are successful, some can be quite challenging, especially when they involve children coming from foster care or from orphanages in other countries (Cadoret & Riggins-Caspers, 2000; Crea, Barth, Guo, & Brooks, 2008; Simmel, Barth, & Brooks, 2007; van der Vegt, van der Ende, Kirschbaum, Verhulst, & Tiemeier, 2009). The extent and nature of the need for postadoption services depend largely on whether the children have special needs and whether these needs can be met by existing approaches to service delivery. The dearth of information on postadoptive service needs of gay and lesbian families is (p.155) particularly significant if, as has been suggested, the parents are often matched with children who have special needs. In light of the limited information in the social casework literature, we carried out a study in order to obtain a better understanding of the unique service needs of gay and lesbian adoptive families, both before and after adoption. Though not directly addressing the question of whether families experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation, our results will help us to better understand whether the biases of adoption professionals and agencies translate into unequal access to needed services and poorer quality of services for gay and lesbian adoptive parents, compared with their straight counterparts.

The study was guided by the following six questions: (1) What are the characteristics of gay and lesbian adoptive families? (2) How well are such families prepared for adoption? (3) What services are needed by and available to these families? (4) What unmet service needs exist for them? (5) What services do they use? (6) Which services do they find most helpful?

The Current Study

Recruitment of Respondents

Respondents in our research were adoptive parents who took part in a large, recently completed national study comparing transracial and within-racial adoptive families. The study was conducted under the auspices of a not-for profit adoption agency (hereafter referred to as “the Agency”) located in Northern California. The Agency provides adoption-related services primarily to children of color, their adoptive parents, and their birth parents. Services include preadoption preparation, education, and counseling, postplacement supports, educational and informational services, referrals, and informal social supports.

Respondents were recruited by the Agency using various strategies, including recruitment from among its databases, posting of flyers, Internet and web-based notices, and advertisements in adoption-related publications and newsletters. The Agency also requested that adoption professionals, groups, organizations, and other agencies across the United States forward information about the study to their clients and members. Finally, families were solicited at local and national adoption conferences, and by encouraging adoptive families who expressed an interest or participated in the study to pass information about it to other adoptive families they thought might be willing to participate.

The Agency sent out over 22,000 notices about the study to adoption professionals, agencies, and organizations, adoption support groups, and adoptive families. Because it is not known how many of these individuals and groups actually received the notice and read it, it is impossible to accurately calculate a response rate. Given the nature of recruitment, particularly the snowballing approach that was used, it is also impossible to determine how representative respondents are of those targeted for participation. Approximately 38 percent of the recruitment sources were located in California; the remainder were from 30 different states.

(p.156) Respondent Selection and Classification

Potential participants were asked to complete a demographic form and return it to the Agency. The information provided was then entered into a database and used to determine the eligibility of the family for participation and to identify a “target” adopted child who would be the focus of the study. Families and children were eligible for participation if each of the following parameters was met: The family had submitted a demographic form, the adoption was finalized, the child was currently over 2 years of age and under 20 years of age, the age at time of placement was under 5 years, the nature of the adoption was clearly identified as either within-racial or transracial, and at least one parent was the original adoptive parent of the child. Eligible families and target children within the families were then randomly selected based on sampling goals set by the agency. These goals were established to ensure a broad representation of families with respect to adoption type (i.e., transracial vs. within-racial), ethnicity of the child, age of the child, and gender of the child. Adoptive parents from families selected for participation were then mailed packets containing a cover letter, survey, and self-addressed, stamped envelope to be used to return the survey.

Among the questions included on the demographic form used to determine eligibility for participation was one asking respondents to describe their households. Response categories for this question included (1) heterosexual and (2) gay and lesbian. Of the 1196 families completing the survey, 1153 (96 percent) provided a response to this question. Of those, 82 (7.1 percent) were classified as gay and lesbian families and the remaining 1071 (92.8 percent) were classified as straight families. These comprised the comparison groups for the study.

Data Collection

Data were collected using the demographic form utilized to determine eligibility and an additional mailed survey. The demographic form contained questions pertaining to characteristics of respondents and their families, including information about their adopted children. The survey asked for additional information about the adopted children and the adoption experience, as well as information on family characteristics and well-being and adoption services and supports. The latter items addressed issues such as the need for particular services and supports, as well as their availability and helpfulness. Families were also asked how well prepared they felt for adopting their children and, separately, how well the professionals working with them prepared them for the adoption.

Analyses

Descriptive statistics are presented as frequencies, percentages, means, and standard deviations (SDs). Two sample Student’s t tests were performed for between-group comparisons (i.e., gay and lesbian vs. straight) of continuous variables. (p.157) Pearson’s χ2 tests or Kolmogorov–Smirnov sample tests were performed for between-group comparisons of nominal and ordinal variables. For dichotomous data, binomial tests were used to determine if the proportion of gay and lesbian adoptive families falling in each category differed from observed probabilities of straight adoptive families falling into those categories. A p value less than 0.05 was used to indicate statistical significance.

Results

Characteristics of Adoptive Families and Children

Tables 8.1 and 8.2 describe the characteristics of respondents, their families, and their adopted children. As noted previously, approximately 7 percent (n = 82) of the total sample of adoptive families in this study (n = 1153) was headed by gay men or lesbians. In many ways, the characteristics of gay and lesbian and heterosexual families were similar (see Tables 8.1 and 8.2), but there were differences as well. A greater percentage of mothers completed surveys in straight families than in gay and lesbian families. Compared with their straight counterparts, respondents from gay and lesbian families were more likely to have attained higher levels

Table 8.1 Family Characteristics

Characteristic

All Families (N = 1153)

Gay/Lesbian Families (N = 82)

Straight Families (N = 1071)

p

%

%

%

Respondent

Mother

92.5

80.2

93.4

〈0.05a

Father

7.5

19.8

6.6

Respondent’s current marital and relationship status

Single

17.7

19.2

17.6

NSa

Living with partner or married

82.3

80.8

82.4

Respondents’ marital and relationship status at the time of adoption

Single

16.7

18.2

16.6

NSa

Living with partner or married

83.3

81.8

83.4

Current household characteristics among two-parent households

Same race couple

87.9

86.2

88.0

NS4

Interracial couple

12.1

13.8

12.0

Respondent’s mean age (years)

44.26 (SD = 6.95)

43.32 (SD = 6.38)

44.32 (SD = 7.00)

NSb

Respondent’s partner and spouse’s mean age (years)

44.76 (SD = 9.72)

43.36 (SD = 14.96)

44.86 (SD = 9.24)

NSb

Respondent’s highest level of education

Graduate school

50.1

71.3

48.5

Four-year college

30.4

22.5

31.0

〈0.05a

Junior and community college, AA, or vocational school

12.0

2.5

12.7

Grade school and high school or GED

7.5

3.8

7.8

Respondent’s partner and spouse’s highest level of education

Graduate School

41.6

64.4

40.0

Four-year college

31.9

22.0

32.6

〈0.05a

Junior and community college, AA, or vocational school

13.8

10.2

14.1

Grade school and high school or GED

12.7

3.4

13.4

Respondent’s race and ethnicity

White or caucasian

Black or African American

Asian or Pacific Islander

Hispanic or Latino

Otherc

74.5

13.5

7.2

3.9

1.0

81.7

13.4

3.7

1.2

0.0

73.9

13.5

7.5

4.1

1.0

NSa

Respondent’s partner and spouse’s race and ethnicity

White or caucasian

Black or African-American

Asian or Pacific Islander

Hispanic or Latino

Otherc

74.8

13.1

7.3

3.9

0.9

78.8

12.2

3.0

4.5

1.5

74.4

13.2

7.6

3.9

0.9

NSa

Household gross income

Less than $39,999

$40,000–$59,999

$60,000–$79,999

$80,000–$99,999

$100,000–$149,999

$150,000 or more

9.9

17.7

17.5

18.9

21.2

14.8

8.8

20.0

13.8

20.0

21.3

16.3

10.0

17.5

17.7

18.8

21.2

14.7

NSa

Community where family currently resides

Urban (approximately 50,000 or more)

Large town (approximately 10,000–50,000)

Small town (approximately 2,500–10,000)

Rural or farm (approximately less than 2,500)

42.1

35.7

15.8

6.4

58.0

24.7

7.4

9.9

40.8

36.6

16.4

6.2

〈0.05a

Importance of role of religion or spirituality in family

Very important

Somewhat important

Not at all important

52.0

38.5

9.5

39.5

54.3

6.2

52.9

37.3

9.8

NSa

Religion family practices

Christian

Jewish

Otherd

73.5

8.4

18.1

39.4

22.5

38.0

76.1

7.3

16.6

〈0.05a

Mean number of children in family

2.62

(SD = 1.94)

1.94

(SD = 1.22)

2.67

(SD = 1.98)

〈0.05b

Mean number of adopted children

2.45

(SD = 7.66)

1.67

(SD = 0.89)

2.51

(SD = 7.94)

NSb

Mean number of birth children

0.65

(SD = 1.14)

0.27

(SD = 0.80)

0.68

(SD = 1.16)

〈0.05b

aChi-Square tests.

bStudent’s t test.

cOther includes Arab, Native American, or American Indian, and other racial groups.

dOther includes Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and other religious groups.

(p.158) (p.159) of formal education and to reside in urban areas. The percentage of families indicating that the role of religion or spirituality in their lives was “very important” was larger for straight families (53 percent) than for gay and lesbian families (40 percent). When asked what religion their family practices, respondents from straight families were nearly twice as likely as respondents from gay and lesbian families to indicate Christian (76 percent vs. 39 percent), whereas gay and lesbian respondents were more likely than straight respondents to indicate Judaism (23 percent vs. 7 percent) or some other religion (38 percent vs. 17 percent). For straight families, the total number of children (by adoption and birth) and the (p.160) number of birth children was higher than for gay and lesbian families; the groups did not differ in the number of adopted children in the family.

Table 8.2 shows that adopted children were similar across the two groups in terms of their gender, ethnicity, type of adoption (i.e., within-racial vs. transracial), mean age at adoption, and how they were adopted (i.e., internationally, through a public or private agency, or independently). They differed in two

Table 8.2 Child Characteristics

Characteristic

All Families (N = 1153)

Gay/Lesbian Families (N = 82)

Straight Families (N = 1071)

p

%

%

%

Child’s gender

Female

Male

56.5

43.5

59.3

40.7

56.3

43.7

NSa

Child’s race and ethnicity

Black or African-American

Asian or Pacific Islander

Hispanic or Latino

White or Caucasian

Otherc

40.4

32.4

19.5

6.1

1.9

53.7

25.6

14.6

3.7

2.4

39.4

32.9

19.9

6.0

1.8

NSa

Type of adoption

Transracial

Interraciald

73.6

26.4

81.7

18.3

73.0

27.0

NSa

Child’s mean age at the time of adoption (years)

2.32

(SD = 2.15)

2.32

(SD = 2.24)

2.32

(SD = 2.14)

NSb

Child’s mean age (years)

6.39

(SD = 4.07)

4.89

(SD = 3.00)

6.51

(SD = 4.12)

〈0.05b

How adopted

International

Public

Private

Independent

44.9

21.8

26.0

7.4

34.1

29.3

28.0

8.5

45.7

21.2

25.8

7.3

NSa

Prior to adoption, child placed in out-of-home care

Yes

No

80.2

19.8

69.5

30.5

81.0

19.0

〈0.05a

Notes:aChi-Square tests.

bTwo-independent sample t test.

cOther includes Arab, Native American, or American Indian, and other racial groups.

dEither one or two parents have the same ethnic background as the adopted child.

(p.161) respects, however. Contrary to findings in previous research, children in our study who were adopted by gay and lesbian families were significantly younger than those adopted by straight families (x = 4.89 years vs. 6.51 years), and less likely to have been placed in out-of-home care prior to adoption. Approximately 70 percent of children in gay and lesbian families had been in out-of-home care, compared to 81 percent of children in straight families.

Preparation for Adoption

The survey included two questions pertaining to respondents’ preparation for adoption (see Table 8.3). The first one asked parents how prepared they felt to adopt their children, and the second asked how well the professionals working with their family prepared them for the adoption. Gay and lesbian families were similar to straight families in their responses to both questions. Approximately 95 percent of all respondents said they felt prepared to adopt, with 31 percent reporting they felt “very well prepared,” 36 percent “well prepared,” and 28 percent “somewhat well prepared.” Fewer than 5 percent indicated they felt “not well prepared at all.”

In terms of the preparation they received from the professionals working with them, the majority of all respondents (approximately 82 percent), regardless of

Table 8.3 Preparedness for Adoption

Characteristic

All Families (N = 1,153)

Gay/Lesbian Families (N = 82)

Straight Families (N = 1071)

p

%

%

%

How prepared did you feel to adopt this child?

Very well prepared

Well prepared

Somewhat well prepared

Not well prepared at all

31.4

36.0

27.9

4.7

27.0

37.0

28.4

7.4

31.7

36.0

27.9

4.5

NSa

How well did the professionals working with your family prepare you to adopt this child?

Very well

Well

Somewhat well

Not well at all

25.0

28.0

29.3

17.7

25.1

28.6

28.9

17.4

22.5

21.3

33.8

22.5

NSb

Notes: aKolmogorov–Smirnov Z = 0.392, n = 1132, p 〉 0.05.

bKolmogorov–Smirnov Z = 0.998, n = 1134, p 〉 0.05.

(p.162) sexual orientation, felt they had been well, somewhat well, or very well prepared to adopt, with the remaining 18 percent indicating that they felt “not well at all” prepared by such professionals.

Social Service Availability, Need, and Utilization

Next, we were interested in learning more about the needs and availability of different kinds of services and supports. Tables 8.4a (clinical services) and 8.4b (educational and information services) present respondents’ reports of the services and supports they needed and the ones they believed were available to them. As can be seen in Table 8.4a, the clinical services most needed by adoptive families in our sample included opportunities for children to meet other children of the same racial and ethnic background (77 percent), support groups for preadoptive parents (66 percent), and support groups for parents adopting transracially. The groups differed in two ways: greater percentages of gay and lesbian families said they needed “marital” or individual counseling (43 percent vs. 27 percent) and respite care (35 percent vs. 20 percent). In terms of the availability of services, there were no differences between the groups.

As can be seen in Table 8.4b, substantial proportions of respondents expressed a need for educational and informational services, including reading material on adoption (91 percent), information on their children’s medical or genetic history (85 percent), information on their children’s social history or preadoption background (79 percent), lectures and seminars on adoption (77 percent), reading material on transracial adoption (75 percent), classes and workshops on understanding adopted children (71 percent), information about challenges associated with transracial adoption (70 percent), information about common experiences for transracial adoptive families (70 percent), information about their children’s racial and ethnic groups (68 percent), Internet-based resources (64 percent), information about their children’s racial and ethnic background (63 percent), lectures and seminars on transracial adoption (60 percent), classes on how to communicate with their children about adoption (55 percent), and legal advice (54 percent). Gay and lesbian families were more likely than straight ones to indicate that they needed the following services: information on their children’s genetic history (93 percent vs. 84 percent), lectures and seminars on transracial adoption (73 percent vs. 59 percent), and information on how to search for their children’s birth relatives (67 percent vs. 53 percent).

In terms of the reported availability of services, gay and lesbian families were more likely to report the availability of the following services: lectures and seminars on adoption (92 percent vs. 82 percent), classes and workshops on understanding adopted children (85 percent vs. 72 percent), lectures and seminars on transracial adoption (72 percent vs. 53 percent), and information about their children’s racial and ethnic background (71 percent vs. 64 percent). (p.163)

Table 8.4a Needs and Availability of Services: Clinical Services

All Families (N = 1153)

Gay/Lesbian Families (N = 82)

Straight Families (N = 1071)

Service

Needed %

Available%

Needed%

Available%

Needed%

Available%

Support group for preadoptive parents

65.7

71.1

57.3

69.5

66.4

71.2

Preadoptive support group for children being placed for adoption

23.2

21.1

26.8

14.6

23.0

21.6

Marital or individual counseling*

28.3

60.5

42.7

62.2

27.2

60.4

Child counseling

31.7

59.8

39.0

67.1

31.2

59.2

Family therapy

24.9

59.4

28.0

56.1

24.6

59.7

Intensive crisis counseling

13.3

44.5

14.6

41.5

13.2

44.7

Counseling group for preadoptive parents

33.8

41.5

28.0

39.0

34.3

41.6

Preadoptive counseling group for children being placed for adoption

15.4

18.0

11.0

15.9

15.7

18.2

Respite care*

20.6

23.3

35.4

29.3

19.5

22.9

Support group for parents adopting transracially

56.5

47.4

56.1

45.1

56.6

47.0

Support group for children being adopted transracially

40.0

26.5

35.4

20.7

40.3

27.0

Opportunities for children to meet other children of the same race and ethnic background

77.0

69.1

83.5

76.8

76.4

68.5

Notes: *p 〈 .05 (2-tailed). *Binomial tests were performed to test proportional difference between two groups in services needed (percentage of straight families were used as test statistic).

(p.164)

Table 8.4b Needs and Availability of Services: Educational and Informational Services

Service

All Families (N = 1153)

Gay/Lesbian Families (N = 82)

Straight Families (N = 1071)

Needed%

Available%

Needed%

Available%

Needed%

Available%

Reading material on adoption

90.8

93.3

91.5

93.9

90.8

93.3

Lectures and seminars on adoption*

77.0

82.5

80.5

91.5

76.7

81.8

Classes and workshops on understanding adopted children*

70.6

72.9

76.8

85.4

70.1

71.9

Classes on how to communicate with your adopted child about adoption

54.9

55.9

51.2

59.8

55.2

55.6

Classes for extended family members on understanding adoption

31.3

15.4

29.3

13.4

31.5

15.6

Information on child’s social history or preadoption background

78.9

56.7

84.1

63.4

78.5

56.2

Information on child’s medical history or genetic history*

84.6

47.5

92.7

52.4

83.9

47.1

Legal advice

53.7

64.4

67.1

69.5

52.7

64.0

Information on how to search for child’s birth relatives

35.7

29.1

35.4

35.4

35.8

28.6

Information about child’s racial and ethnic background

62.6

64.8

65.9

70.7

62.4

64.3

Reading material on transracial adoption*

75.2

76.4

84.1

86.6

74.5

75.6

Lectures and seminars on transracial adoption* ,

59.9

54.5

73.1

72.0

58.9

53.1

Information about child’s racial and ethnic group

68.4

65.9

74.4

75.6

68.0

65.2

Information about challenges associated with transracial adoption*

70.0

61.1

79.3

73.2

69.3

60.1

Information about common experiences for transracial adoptive families*

70.0

56.5

80.5

70.7

69.2

55.5

Web- or Internet-based resources

64.3

65.0

68.3

68.3

64.0

64.8

Notes: *p 〈 0.05 (two-tailed). *Binomial tests were performed to test the proportional difference between two groups in service availability (percentage of straight families was used as the test statistic).

p 〈 0.05 (two-tailed). †Binomial tests were performed to test the proportional difference between two groups in services needed (percentage of straight families was used as the test statistic).

(p.165) Information on and availability of needed services, as perceived by respondents, was used to calculate unmet clinical and educational and informational service needs variables. For all respondents, the greatest unmet clinical service needs (see Table 8.5a) were for preadoptive counseling groups for children being placed for adoption (75 percent), preadoptive support groups for children being placed for adoption (62 percent), respite care (59 percent), and support groups for children being adopted transracially (57 percent). Gay and lesbian respondents differed from their straight counterparts in only one instance: They were more likely to report an unmet need for preadoptive counseling groups for children being placed for adoption (100 percent vs. 73 percent).

As can be seen in Table 8.5b, there is a particularly large unmet need for all respondents for classes for extended family members on understanding adoption (84 percent) and for information on how to search for their children’s birth relatives (64 percent). Respondents differed in two respects: Straight families were more likely to have unmet educational and informational needs in terms of classes and workshops on understanding adopted children (16 percent vs. 5 percent), and (p.166) classes on how to communicate with their children about adoption (25 percent vs. 8 percent).

Table 8.6 summarizes respondents’ utilization of clinical and educational and informational services. Parents were asked to indicate the helpfulness of various services they had received (described later in Table 8.7). Responses indicating any level of helpfulness (i.e., “not helpful,” “somewhat helpful,” or “very helpful”) were classified as having utilized the service. As can be seen in Table 8.6, our respondents seem to have utilized educational and informational services, overall, more than clinical services. Of the latter services, respondents were most likely to have utilized opportunities for children to meet other children of the same race and ethnic background (64 percent) and support groups for preadoptive parents (57 percent).

Table 8.5a Unmet Needs: Clinical Services

Service

All 〉Families

Gay/Lesbian Families

Straight Families

n

%

n

%

n

%

Support group for preadoptive parents

747

19.5

46

19.6

701

19.5

Preadoptive support group for children being placed for adoption

234

61.5

19

63.2

215

61.4

Marital or individual counseling

317

11.7

35

17.1

282

11.0

Child counseling

355

11.8

31

6.5

324

12.3

Family therapy

271

12.2

23

13.0

248

12.1

Intensive crisis counseling

144

31.9

9

33.3

135

31.9

Counseling group for preadoptive parents

370

38.1

19

31.6

351

38.5

Preadoptive counseling group for children being placed for adoption*

151

74.2

6

100.0

145

73.1

Respite care

226

58.8

28

60.7

198

58.6

Support group for parents adopting transracially

632

37.0

43

46.5

589

36.3

Support group for children being adopted transracially

435

56.8

24

66.7

411

56.2

Opportunities for children to meet other children of the same race and ethnic background

859

12.9

69

13.0

790

12.9

Notes: *p 〈 0.05 (two-tailed). Binomial tests were performed to test the proportional difference between two groups in unmet need (percentage of straight families was used as the test statistic).

(p.167)

Table 8.5b Unmet Needs: Educational and Informational Services

Service

All Families

Gay/Lesbian Families

Straight Families

n

%

n

%

n

%

Reading material on adoption

1027

1.7

74

2.7

953

1.6

Lectures and seminars on adoption

872

7.8

66

3.0

806

8.2

Classes and workshops on understanding adopted children*

787

15.2

62

4.8

725

16.1

Classes on how to communicate with your adopted child about adoption*

607

23.9

38

7.9

569

25.0

Classes for extended family members on understanding adoption

344

84.3

22

81.8

322

84.5

Information on child’s social history or preadoption background

886

32.3

69

29.0

817

32.6

Information on child’s medical history or genetic history

939

45.5

74

44.6

865

45.5

Legal advice

598

12.4

52

11.5

546

12.5

Information on how to search for child’s birth relatives

385

64.2

27

55.6

358

64.8

Information about child’s racial and ethnic background

708

11.7

54

11.1

654

11.8

Reading material on transracial adoption

849

4.9

69

4.3

780

5.0

Lectures and seminars on transracial adoption

672

23.8

60

13.3

612

24.8

Information about child’s racial and ethnic group

761

10.6

61

6.6

700

11.0

Information about challenges associated with transracial adoption

781

19.6

63

11.1

718

20.3

Information about common experiences for transracial adoptive families

784

25.9

66

16.7

718

26.7

Web- or Internet-based resources

702

15.2

55

14.5

647

15.3

Notes: *p 〈 0.05 (two-tailed). Binomial tests were performed to test the proportional difference between two groups in unmet need (percentage of straight families was used as the test statistic).

(p.168) Of the educational and information services, respondents were most likely to have utilized the following: reading material on adoption (89 percent), lectures and seminars on adoption (71 percent), reading material on transracial adoption (69 percent), classes and workshops on understanding adopted children (58 percent), information about their children’s racial and ethnic groups (56 percent), information on their children’s social history or preadoption background (54 percent), and information on their children’s racial and ethnic background (51 percent). Gay and lesbian adopters differed from their straight counterparts in that greater proportions of the former group utilized respite care (16 percent vs. 8 percent), classes and workshops on understanding adopted children (71 percent vs. 57 percent), lectures and seminars on transracial adoption (61 percent vs. 44 percent), and information about common experiences for transracial adoptive (p.169)

Table 8.6 Services Utilized

Service

All Families (N = 1153)

Gay/Lesbian Families (N = 82)

Straight Families (N = 1071)

%

%

%

clinical

Support group for preadoptive parents*

56.7

40.2

58.0

Preadoptive support group for children being placed for adoption

10.6

7.3

10.8

Marital or individual counseling

24.4

29.3

24.0

Child counseling

25.8

26.8

25.7

Family therapy

19.0

17.1

19.1

Intensive crisis counseling

9.3

6.1

9.5

Counseling group for preadoptive parents*

20.1

11.0

20.8

Preadoptive counseling group for children being placed for adoption

3.6

0.0

3.8

Respite care*

8.2

15.9

7.7

Support group for parents adopting transracially

34.4

24.4

35.2

Support group for children being adopted transracially*

15.4

4.9

16.2

Opportunities for children to meet other children of same race and ethnic background

64.4

73.2

63.8

educational and informational

Reading material on adoption

89.1

92.7

89.4

Lectures and seminars on adoption

71.1

84.1

70.8

Classes and workshops on understanding adopted children*

57.8

70.7

56.8

Classes on how to communicate with your adopted child about adoption

38.1

41.5

37.8

Classes for extended family members on understanding adoption

4.1

3.7

4.1

Information on child’s social history or preadoption background

53.8

62.2

53.1

Information on child’s medical history or genetic history

47.5

51.2

47.2

Legal advice

43.5

53.7

42.8

Information on how to search for child’s birth relatives

10.6

11.0

10.6

Information about child’s racial and ethnic background

50.8

53.7

50.6

Reading material on transracial adoption

69.0

78.0

68.3

Lectures and seminars on transracial adoption*

45.3

61.0

44.1

Information about child’s racial and ethnic group

55.9

62.2

55.4

Information about challenges associated with transracial adoption

53.2

61.0

52.6

Information about common experiences for transracial adoptive families*

49.4

61.0

48.6

Web- or Internet-based resources

50.0

48.8

50.1

Notes:*p 〈 0.05 (two-tailed). Binomial tests were performed to test the proportional difference between two groups in service utilization (percentage of straight families was used as the test statistic).

(p.170) families (61 percent vs. 49 percent). Gay and lesbian adopters were less likely to have utilized support groups for preadoptive parents (40 percent vs. 58 percent), counseling groups for preadoptive parents (11 percent vs. 21 percent), and support groups for children being adopted transracially (5 percent vs. 16 percent).

Social Services and Support Helpfulness

Respondents were asked to indicate the level of helpfulness of the services they had received using a three-point scale: 0 = not helpful, 1 = somewhat helpful, and 2 = very helpful. The mean values of helpfulness are reported in Table 8.7, with (p.171)

Table 8.7 Helpfulness of Services Receiveda

Service

All Families (N = 1153)

Gay/Lesbian Families (N = 82)

Straight Families (N = 1,071)

Mean (SD)

Mean (SD)

Mean (SD)

Clinical

Support group for preadoptive parents

1.60 (0.57)

1.36 (0.74)

1.61 (0.55)

Preadoptive support group for children being placed for adoption

1.33 (0.79)

1.50 (0.84)

1.32 (0.79)

Marital or individual counseling

1.37 (0.68)

1.42 (0.78)

1.37 (0.67)

Child counseling*

1.38 (0.68)

1.64 (0.49)

1.36 (0.69)

Family therapy

1.39 (0.69)

1.57 (.65)

1.38 (.69)

Intensive crisis counseling

1.18 (0.77)

1.40 (0.89)

1.17 (0.77)

Counseling group for preadoptive parents

1.47 (0.65)

1.56 (0.73)

1.47 (0.65)

Preadoptive counseling group for children being placed for adoption

.98 (0.88)

n/a

.98 (0.88)

Respite care

1.48 (0.76)

1.62 (0.65)

1.46 (0.77)

Support group for parents adopting transracially

1.58 (0.56)

1.75 (0.55)

1.57 (0.56)

Support group for children being adopted transracially

1.42 (0.64)

1.75 (0.50)

1.41 (0.65)

Opportunities for children to meet other children of same race and ethnic background

1.68 (0.50)

1.73 (0.45)

1.68 (0.50)

Educational and informational

Reading material on adoption

1.70 (0.47)

1.62 (0.49)

1.71 (0.46)

Lectures and seminars on adoption

1.61 (0.53)

1.58 (0.60)

1.61 (0.52)

Classes and workshops on understanding adopted children

1.53 (0.55)

1.55 (0.73)

1.52 (0.55)

Classes on how to communicate with your adopted child about adoption*

1.52 (0.56)

1.71 (0.46)

1.51 (0.57)

Classes for extended family members on understanding adoption

.98 (0.79)

1.67 (0.58)

.93 (0.79)

Information on child’s social history or preadoption background

1.49 (0.58)

1.45 (0.58)

1.49 (0.58)

Information on child’s medical history or genetic history

1.43 (0.62)

1.36 (0.62)

1.43 (0.62)

Legal advice*

1.55 (0.58)

1.73 (0.50)

1.53 (0.59)

Information on how to search for child’s birth relatives

1.31 (0.71)

1.44 (0.53)

1.30 (0.72)

Information about child’s racial and ethnic background

1.53 (0.56)

1.64 (0.49)

1.52 (0.57)

Reading material on transracial adoption

1.61 (0.50)

1.58 (0.50)

1.61 (0.50)

Lectures and seminars on transracial adoption

1.56 (0.54)

1.58 (0.57)

1.56 (0.54)

Information about child’s racial and ethnic group

1.54 (0.54)

1.61 (0.49)

1.53 (0.54)

Information about challenges associated with transracial adoption

1.50 (0.54)

1.56 (0.54)

1.50 (0.54)

Information about common experiences for transracial adoptive families

1.52 (.52)

1.56 (.54)

1.52 (.52)

Web- or Internet-based resources

1.50 (.58)

1.35 (.66)

1.51 (.57)

Notes: aHelpfulness of service was measured with a three-point scale: 0 = not helpful, 1 = somewhat helpful, and 2 = very helpful. Higher values indicate greater levels of helpfulness.

*p 〈 0.05.

(p.172) higher values indicating greater levels of helpfulness. The greatest levels of helpfulness of clinical services were for support groups for preadoptive parents, support groups for parents adopting transracially, and opportunities for children to meet other children of their same racial and ethnic background. The greatest levels of helpfulness of educational and informational services were for reading material on adoption, lectures, and seminars on adoption, and reading material on transracial adoption. Worth noting is that the lowest levels of helpfulness for services were for preadoptive counseling for children being placed for adoption (a clinical service) and classes for extended family members on understanding adoption (an educational and information service).

The two groups of respondents differed in terms of their reported levels of helpfulness for child counseling (a clinical service), with gay and lesbian parents reporting a higher level of helpfulness than straight ones. The groups also differed in terms of the reported levels of helpfulness for two educational and information services; gay and lesbian respondents found classes on how to communicate with their children about adoption, as well as legal advice, more helpful than did straight respondents.

Discussion

Findings from our research demonstrate both similarities and differences between gay and lesbian adoptive families and straight ones in relation to the characteristics of the two groups, their service needs before and after adoption, service use, and helpfulness of services that they utilized. We will briefly summarize these similarities and then highlight differences between these two adoptive family forms, before closing with implications for practice and future research.

What Are the Characteristics of Gay and Lesbian Adoptive Families?

To begin, findings show that approximately 7 percent of the respondents in the sample were gay and lesbian adoptive families. This is higher than previous estimates of the ratio of gay and lesbian families among the population of adoptive families living in the United States. In their report on adoption and foster care by gay and lesbian parents, Gates et al. (2007) estimated that about 4 percent of adoptions are completed by gay men and lesbians. Brodzinsky et al. (2002) found in their study that 1.6 percent of all placements reported by the responding agencies involved placements with self-identified lesbian and gay individuals and couples. Some of the agencies in the study could not or would not attempt to estimate the actual number of placements they made with gay and lesbian clients. In these instances, the researchers coded the number of placements as “1.” Furthermore, as Brodzinsky and his colleagues point out, families do not always self-disclose sexual orientation. Thus, the incidence of gay and lesbian placements in the study by Brodzinsky et al. likely underestimated the actual percentage of (p.173) gay and lesbian adoptions. On the other hand, it is also quite possible that there was an overrepresentation of gay and lesbian adoptive parents in our latest study. This is a likely scenario given the large number of respondents from California and from urban areas in which larger numbers of gay men and lesbians reside. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the true number of adoptive families currently in the United States lies somewhere between 2 percent and 7 percent of all adoptive families. Given demographic trends and increasing openness toward gays and lesbians, including their adoption of children, it is likely that the proportion of such adoptions will increase in the years to come.

Our findings are also important in that they offer empirical data about the types of children adopted by gay men and lesbians. There has been considerable speculation and some evidence (e.g., Brooks & Goldberg, 2001; Matthews & Cramer, 2006) that gay men and lesbian adopters are typically matched with children who have special needs—that is, children often considered hard to place. Yet our findings indicate that gay men and lesbians are adopting children similar to those placed with straight adopters. If anything, our data suggest that gay and lesbian families may be less likely to adopt special needs children, at least among those who adopt children under the age of 5 years. Only 70 percent of gay and lesbian respondents adopted children previously placed in out-of-home care, such as foster care, compared with 81 percent of straight adopters. Unfortunately, we did not ask respondents directly about the special needs characteristics of their children, so we are unable to say definitively whether the characteristics of the children in our study reflect those in the larger adopted child population.

Perception of Preparation for Adoption

Irrespective of the characteristics of the children who were adopted, respondents in our study were similar to one another in terms of the preparation they received prior to adoptive placement. Retrospectively, about two-thirds of all these adoptive parents reported feeling very well or well prepared to adopt overall. They were also similar in terms of their feelings about how well professionals working with their families prepared them for adoption, with over half indicating that they felt very well or well prepared by these professionals. Initially, these results are somewhat surprising given findings from past studies (Brooks & Goldberg, 2001; Mathews & Cramer, 2006) suggesting that gay men and lesbians regularly experience discrimination in the preadoption phase of their adoption process. However, numerous studies (Brooks & Goldberg, 2001; Downs & James, 2006; Brooks, Halloway, & Kim, in preparation) on gay and lesbian adoptive and foster parenting reveal that gay men and lesbians have special strengths and may be particularly resourceful. Studies also show that they are persistent. Gates et al. (2007) found that lesbians, on average, are more interested in adopting and more likely to take active steps toward doing so than are straight women. In their study of gay, lesbian, and bisexual foster parents, Downs and James (2006) found that 44 percent of the female and 56 percent of the male participants who had encountered legal (p.174) challenges to becoming or remaining foster parents because of their sexual orientation were not initially approved, but challenged that denial and subsequently went on to become foster parents.

The available literature suggests it is quite likely that the gay and lesbian families in our study encountered discrimination in their adoption experiences. It is also likely that the kind of resourcefulness displayed by participants in the study by Downs and James (2006) allowed participants in our study to locate agencies and workers who were accepting and encouraging of them regardless of (or perhaps because of) their sexual orientation. Future studies should ask gay and lesbian adoptive parents about the specific experiences they have had with various agencies and workers at all stages of their adoption journey—not just the ones they were involved with when they eventually adopted—as well as specific questions regarding preparation for the unique challenges experienced by gay and lesbian adopters, such as coming out to the child, addressing discrimination in community settings, and more. Notwithstanding the possibility of a selection bias, our findings suggest that gay and lesbian adopters generally feel as well prepared as straight adopters and feel similarly well prepared by their adoption professionals.

Adoption Services Availability

With respect to the availability of services, our findings suggest that gay and lesbian and straight adoptive families are similar in most regards. When differences do exist, gay and lesbian adopters are more likely than their straight counterparts to report that a service was available to them. This is an important finding as it intimates that although gay men and lesbians may experience discrimination due to their sexual orientation (particularly during the preadoption phase), they are either not denied access to needed services or, consistent with their tenacity in engaging in the adoption process, they are more assertive in seeking them out. Our data do not, however, indicate whether gay men and lesbians must exert more energy to access services, or to the quality of service delivery. Future research examining the basis of perceived service availability could enhance actual access for all adoptive families.

Adoption Services Need, Use, and Helpfulness

Service Need

Overall, gay and lesbian adoptive families appear to be similar to straight adoptive families with respect to their needs for educational and informational services. There were some differences between the two groups, however. For instance, over two-thirds of gay and lesbian respondents reported needing legal advice, compared with just over half of straight families. This finding is almost certainly (p.175) related to the nature of gay and lesbian adoption as a family form (see Appell, this volume). In most states, gay and lesbian individuals cannot marry and therefore do not have the legal entitlements or protections afforded by marriage. As such, they are burdened with tasks that married couples are not. For example, the children with married parents are legally entitled to inheritance, Social Security, health insurance, parental care and support, and access to sibling and extended family relationships (Appell, this volume). A central issue, then, relates to the legal parental status in relation to the children.

Across the country, courts have struggled to address the legality of two-parent, nonmarital, same-sex adoption. Until recently, only one parent in lesbian and gay families has been recognized as the legal parent, either via biological means or formal adoption. In gay and lesbian adoptive families in which only one partner is considered the legal parent, the other partner has no legal standing. If the legal parent dies, the child becomes a legal orphan. If the couple separates, the nonlegal adult–child relationship is left unprotected, both in terms of visitation and the child’s right to parental financial support (Adoption Education Center, 2007). Because in most states joint-parent adoption requires the partners to be married (Appell, this volume), the growing practice of second-parent adoption is the primary method for lesbian and gay couples to have both partners be considered legal parents of their child (Mallon, 2006), thereby providing equal legal protections for both adults and children. Considering the ramifications, it is no surprise that a greater proportion of gay and lesbian adopters in this study expressed a need for legal advice than did straight parents.

Gay and lesbian respondents were also more likely to express a need for lectures and seminars on transracial adoption, even though they were no more likely than straight respondents to adopt transracially. This finding may be related to their existing sensitivity regarding issues of family diversity. Studies have suggested that gay men and lesbians may be especially suited for adoptive parenting because of their experiences as members of a minority group, which contribute to an ability to accept differences and to better understand what it is like to be in a minority (Martin, 1993; Matthews & Cramer, 2006). In short, in preparing to adopt children of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, gay men and lesbians may be more attuned to issues of diversity and discrimination as a result of their own experiences, and therefore seek additional information and/or training related to the complexities associated with transracial adoption.

The finding that a greater percentage of gay and lesbian than straight respondents indicated a need for information about their children’s medical or genetic history requires further examination. Children from both groups tended to be younger when adopted—just over 2 years of age. They were also similar in terms of how they were adopted. So it is not immediately clear why gay and lesbian respondents would be more interested in this information. Many adopted children, particularly those not adopted as infants, have experienced varying forms of adversity such as trauma, neglect, and disruption of prior placements. Children with these histories are likely to exhibit challenging behaviors at home and in the community (Mallon, 2006). Perhaps because of their personal experiences with (p.176) adversity, gay and lesbian adoptive parents are less self-focused and are more likely to recognize that the child’s development is influenced by a variety of factors prior to adoption; factors over which they had no control (e.g., medical and psychosocial history). Or, again, it may be that their attunement to family diversity issues, in general, sensitizes them to the complexity, variability, and spontaneity of contemporary adoptive family life.

Whereas gay and lesbian adoptive families appeared similar to their straight counterparts in terms of clinical needs, significant differences were found, with the former group reporting a greater need for couple or individual counseling and respite care. Although the reasons for this need are not readily obvious, previous studies may shed light on the dynamics contributing to this finding. Matthews and Cramer (2006) found that gay and lesbian adopters may be reluctant to utilize agency-based postadoption support groups due to a sense of exclusion and alienation; the poor fit with typical postadoption support groups may be related to the unique challenges faced by gays and lesbians. For example, James (2002) describes interconnected themes of identity and responsibility as lenses for organizing the experiences of lesbian and gay adoptive parents. He emphasizes the importance of understanding that issues common to adoptive families (e.g., loss, attachment, family reorganization) are experienced differently within the context of being a sexual minority in an often hostile society. In numerous settings, as gay and lesbian adoptive parents come out, they are then challenged to help their children address questions of individual and family identity and disclosure. In addition, for those with open adoptions, development of cooperative relationships with birth family members may present a significant challenge. Consequently, it seems likely that gay and lesbian parents would turn to their community for support.

Based on Belsky and Kelly’s (1994) research that found involvement in the gay community changes once gay men and lesbians begin raising children, Matthews and Cramer (2006) propose that less-frequent participation may contribute to a sense of marginalization and stigmatization. Even though the community may offer support through parenting groups, gay and lesbian adoptive parents may feel excluded because the group composition is either one gender, couples (not singles), or parents with a biological child. Kindle and Erich (2005) also note the erosion of social support following the shift to parenthood. Gay and lesbian parents in their sample reported greater use of support from their partners and from day care centers. Stiglitz (1990) has also reported a strong reliance on partners in lesbian couples with children and has attributed couple dissolution to the advent of a child and related stressors. Consequently, poor fit with commonly offered postadoption support groups, a loss of previously felt support through the gay and lesbian community, and increased reliance on one’s partner may all contribute to a greater need for couples or individual counseling and respite. In addition, the typical stressors associated with adoptive parenting may well be exacerbated by societal discrimination against them and their families due to their sexual orientation. Our finding may also reflect a greater sensitivity to problems—existing ones or those that may be emerging—by gay and lesbian adopters than straight (p.177) ones Because nearly half of the gay men and lesbians in our study indicated a need for marital (couple) or individual counseling, further investigation of the nature of this unmet need is warranted.

Services Use

Our findings also suggest that all the respondents tend to use similar types of services. In most instances, when differences existed between the two groups, the gay and lesbian families were more likely to utilize educational and informational services, whereas the straight families were more likely to utilize clinical services. Specifically, gay and lesbian adopters were less likely to utilize support or counseling groups for preadoptive parents. This may be due to differences in needs at this stage of the adoption process. For example, a common theme in preadoptive counseling and support groups is grief related to infertility. However, unlike most of their straight counterparts, many gay and lesbian adopters choose adoption as a first choice—so grief due to infertility is not a significant issue. In addition, gay and lesbian adopters may struggle with the decision to come out to fellow group members or to hide their sexual orientation and, thus, may not be able to utilize group processes as effectively (Mallon, this volume; Matthews & Cramer, 2006). Consequently, gay and lesbian parents may perceive education and information services as better fitting their needs than typically offered clinical services. If so, they likely would be well served by having adoption supports and services designed for and delivered specifically to gay and lesbian families, at least at this stage of the adoption process.

Helpfulness of Services

Next, we asked parents about the helpfulness of the services they received. As in our other analyses, we found that all the respondents were similar overall in terms of how they rated the helpfulness of services they received. However, gay and lesbian adoptive parents were more likely to find legal advice, child counselling, and classes on how to communicate with their children about adoption more helpful than did straight adoptive parents. In light of the unique challenges of gay and lesbian adoptive families related to identity and responsibility outlined by James (2002), adversities related to the U.S. legal system, and the cultural acceptance of psychotherapy within the gay and lesbian community (Balsam, Martell, & Safren, 2006), it is encouraging to know that respondents in our study not only pursued these types of supports, but also found them helpful. Further research is needed to delineate what aspects of these supports were particularly helpful and why. Such knowledge could contribute to the development of more effective services for gay and lesbian adoptive families.

Unmet Needs for Adoption Services

Finally, we identified respondents’ “unmet service needs,” that is, the difference between needing a service and having it available. Again, all respondents in our study were very similar in all aspects, regardless of their sexual orientation. Although these are reassuring findings that demonstrate, by and large, that many (p.178) needed services are available to gay and lesbian adoptive families, the areas of unmet need are also striking. There were two educational and informational needs that were found to be greater for straight adoptive respondents than for gay and lesbian ones: classes and workshops on understanding adopted children and on how to communicate with their children about adoption. We suspect that due to the unique needs of gay and lesbian adopters, the general preparation about these issues as presented in typical adoption trainings may be deemed insufficient.

With respect to clinical services, the only unmet need found to exist to a greater degree for gay and lesbian parents was for preadoptive counseling groups for children being placed for adoption. Mallon (2006) and Ryan (2000) stress the importance of preadoptive preparation of children placed in gay and lesbian families. As suggested by Ryan, gay affirmative practice requires workers to develop the capacity and willingness to openly and supportively explore and process fully children’s related thoughts and concerns. Consistent with this perspective, Mallon highlights the importance of workers being prepared to confront heterocentric assumptions and comments from all participants throughout the process of adoption (e.g., from workers, supervisors, and birth family members).

Limitations of the Study

Although this is the first empirical study to systematically examine the service needs of gay and lesbian adoptive families compared with those of straight adoptive families, numerous limitations must be acknowledged (see Ryan & Brown, this volume). First, because it is not known exactly how many families were asked to participate in the survey, it is difficult to determine whether the adoptive parents who did participate were representative of the target population. It is likely that some sampling biases exist, given that most respondents submitted information through the Agency’s website or had direct contact with the Agency prior to the study. This suggests that respondents may be more knowledgeable about and reliant on available services than the general population of adoptive families. It further suggests that respondents, the majority of whom were located in California and in urban areas, were unique in terms of their access to services and the openness of the agencies and workers with whom they worked. One other important limitation related to the characteristics of the sample has to do with the type of adoptions completed by the families. Nearly 75 percent of the adoptions were transracial. Though more common in recent years, transracial adoption historically has been less common and less encouraged than within-racial adoption (Brooks, Barth, Bussiere, & Patterson, 1999). It is likely that the agencies working with adoptive families in our sample were those that were more open to “alternative” adoption types, such as transracial adoption and gay and lesbian adoption. It is therefore possible that some of the similarities between groups that we observed were not a function of sexual orientation, but of adoption type and possibly geographic location. Although not significant, there was a slightly higher percentage of transracial adoption by gay men and lesbians than by straight parents, and (p.179) respondents in the former group were significantly more likely than those in the latter to live in urban areas. These two factors could reflect the greater openness of adoption agencies and workers involved with gay and lesbian families than would otherwise be the case with within-racial gay and lesbian adoptive families, or gay and lesbian adoptive families not living in urban areas.

Another limitation of our study is related to the classification of respondents. We do not know whether parents in our sample self-identified as being gay or lesbian during the adoption process. Thus, it is possible that the journeys of gay and lesbian respondents toward adoption were not affected by their sexual orientation, if adoption workers assumed or were told that their clients were heterosexual. The majority (84 percent) of gay and lesbian respondents, however, reported living with their partners at the time of adoption. It is very likely, then, that their sexual orientation was known to the adoption agencies and workers working with them, particularly given the thoroughness of the adoption homestudy process.

Finally, the study is limited in that we did not include questions explicitly related to or addressing sexual orientation. For instance, we did not ask gay and lesbian respondents about their motivations for adopting, their support needs, or the unique preparation they received as a result of their sexual orientation. Nor did we ask them about the strategies they used on their way to adoption, particularly when they believed they encountered discrimination or other obstacles stemming from their sexual orientation.

Conclusions

Although findings from our study indicate that agency services are generally similar for all adoptive families, our research also identifies considerable differences that should be recognized in order to effectively prepare and support them for adoption. In nearly all aspects, gay and lesbian and straight adoptive family characteristics seem to be alike: They adopt similar kinds of children, receive similar kinds of support, and find the services they receive equally helpful. Overall, agency services that we asked respondents about seem to be equally needed, utilized, and helpful. Findings related to the helpfulness of the services identified in our study are especially encouraging, as they imply that despite reports of discrimination and homophobia in the adoption literature, many of the needs of gay and lesbian adoptive families are being adequately addressed and met. Yet significant differences also suggest the importance of some unique unmet needs of gay and lesbian adoptive parents. Given the increasing prevalence of this family form, it seems critical to use an affirmative practice approach that supports an open dialogue not only during recruitment and placement assessment processes, but also during adoption preparation of gay and lesbian adopters and adoptees and throughout the provision of postadoption services.

This systematic investigation makes a strong contribution to the literature on adoption services and support. However, research focusing specifically on gay and (p.180) lesbian adoptive family issues is needed. As the number of such families grows, greater knowledge and skills supporting affirmative practice with this family form will be critical to effective adoption policies and procedures in general.

Acknowledgments

The authors wish to thank Karie Frasch, Beth Hall, and Gail Steinberg for their contributions to research described in this chapter. The research was supported by PACT: An Adoption Alliance.

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Notes:

(1.) Florida’s statute prohibiting all adoptions by lesbians and gays, dating back to 1977, was ruled unconstitutional in 2008. Recently, the Third District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court ruling (FL. Department of Children and Families v. In the Matter of Adoption of X.X.G. and N.R.G., 2010).

(1.) On April 7, 2011, the Arkansas supreme court declared the ban on gay/lesbian adoption to be unconstitutional.