Adoption among gay and lesbian couples has never been more common or more socially accepted. As of February 2013, an estimated 16,000 same-sex couples are raising more than 22,000 adopted children in the United States, according to The Williams Institute, a national think tank at UCLA Law that is dedicated to research on sexual orientation and public policy. Still, gay and lesbian couples looking to adopt face unique challenges and deep-seated prejudices that continue to exist in some agencies and individuals, even as private and government organizations are making strides to ensure that adoption policies are fair. If you have decided to adopt, keep these tips in mind.
Consider all adoption options to find the best fit. Same-sex couples that want to have children have a variety of options to research and consider. "Should you pursue private domestic adoption or public domestic adoption such as through the foster care system? Do you prefer an infant or are you open to an older child?" says Abbie Goldberg, an associate professor of psychology at Clark University and author of LGBT-Parent Families. "Do you feel willing and able to adopt transracially or do you prefer to adopt a child that is of the same race? What level of contact with the birth family are you open to, if any?" Seeking out others who have adopted can help you understand the various options and their potential impact on the child and your family. Additionally, input from close friends and family members who know you well can help you determine your strengths and weaknesses as a couple. "Being honest with yourself about your strengths and limitations can be very important in helping you to find the right match for your family," Goldberg says.
Learn the laws. Adoption laws vary state by state (and sometimes even by county) so it's vital to find out the policies for same-sex adoption in your area. This is especially true when it comes to joint adoption, when two parents adopt a child together, and stepparent adoption. "In some states, one partner must adopt as a single parent, and then the other partner can pursue a 'second parent adoption,' which allows her to also become a legal parent to their child," says David Brodzinsky, Ph.D, a psychologist in San Francisco and author of Adoption by Lesbians and Gay Men: A New Dimension in Family Diversity. In two states, Utah and Mississippi, neither joint nor second parent adoption is legal for gay and lesbian parents. This could leave couples in a tricky spot because the parent without legal rights to the child could suffer harsh consequences if the partners were to separate, Dr. Brodzinksy says. Start your researching your state's laws at Lambda Legal's website, which explains the state-by-state rules for adoption by gay and lesbian individuals and couples.
Identify "gay-friendly" adoption agencies. Although all state agencies will place children with individual gays and lesbians, Dr. Brodzinsky says, that doesn't mean that they are equally gay-friendly. "The atmosphere that the adopted family experiences when they go to adopt a child is extraordinarily important," he says. "Regardless of your sexual orientation, you want your desire to adopt to be respected during the evaluation process." To find out about an adoption agency's experience with and treatment of same-sex couples, Goldberg suggests checking the organization's mission statement for an explicit antidiscrimination clause about placing children with same-sex couples. Also check out the stock photos used in brochures, posters, and on the website, Goldberg suggests. Are same-sex couples portrayed, or only heterosexual adoptive couples? Of course, the best way to find out about a local agency is by word of mouth. Ask for recommendations within the LGBT community for adoption agencies that work fairly with all those seeking adoption.
Find a support community. The adoption process, raising a child, and living as a same-sex couple all offer their own challenges. Do all three together and you'll find that getting support from a group of like-minded individuals is very beneficial, says Carolyn Berger, a licensed clinical social worker and chair of the American Fertility Association Adoption Advisory Council. "You'll have a group of people on your journey with you, which is hugely helpful because there can be so many questions," she says. Connecting with other same-sex couples that are adopting can provide support vital for you, your child, and your family as a whole. Check for support groups run by local adoption agencies, LGBT advocacy groups, and fertility clinics.
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