National Adoption Month: John Ireland’s Story (and Film)
November 19, 2009
“Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Family” is a series of conversations and blog posts celebrating National Adoption Month. This post in the series comes from John Ireland, who directed the film Finding Family: Gay Adoption in the U.S., which is currently playing at film festivals around the world and aired on PBS in October 2009. In fall 2004, my husband and I trained and certified as foster/adoptive parents in Los Angeles. By the same time the following year, we had finalized the adoption of our 10-month old son. We were surrounded by diapers, bottles and the well-wishes of our family and friends. Our dream to build a family through adoption quickly became a reality. As a gay man, I was surprised at how streamlined the process was for us. As a filmmaker, I quickly realized that laws and policies across the U.S. regarding fostering and adoption by gay and lesbian parents are anything but united. After attending a conference of the North American Council on Adoptable Children in July 2006, I set out to make a film that would help prospective gay and lesbian foster/adoptive parents to understand the shifting landscape of laws across the country. What I discovered shocked me—In much of the country, gay and lesbian couples must mask their relationships or go back into the closet in order to foster and adopt. I spoke with a social worker in Virginia who explained how, in her county, only one parent could be approved as an adopter. Accordingly, she investigates the couple, but recommends for foster placement with one parent, then a single parent adoption. This is a common practice in many states, some of which allow second parent adoption by a gay or lesbian partner once the primary adoption is finalized. Perhaps the most shocking discovery I made while researching is that secrecy and lack of clarity in the law may actually protect our families. I spoke with social workers in one western rural state on deep background who insisted I not identify even their state in my report. They explained that the majority of adoptions in their state were processed by a religiously affiliated agency that would not certify openly gay or lesbian people, but that some judges would quietly approve them. Thus, in this state, although there is no explicit policy or case law prohibiting fostering or adoption by gay and lesbian parents, it is extremely rare and always kept very quiet. As one worker explained to me, “Attention would just force the issue here and it could prevent us from placing children.” My film goes into much more detail, state-by-state, but overall, gay and lesbian parents can openly foster and adopt in most urban centers. Rural communities are almost always more difficult and require a certain element of stealth. The majority of states lack statewide legislation, case law, or department regulation addressing adoption by gays and lesbians. In these states, it’s up to the judge, the agency, and the individual social worker. This is why the work done through the All Children—All Families program is so important. As social workers learn that gay and lesbian parents are a ready resource to serve children in need, more children—and prospective parents—will, at last, find family. NOTE: HRC's webcat on adoption begins at 3:00 pm eastern today (Thursday, the 19th). Go to www.hrc.org/chat to join in.
May 17, 2013