As I sit in a restaurant on a Saturday night, I look around me. I see young high school boys and girls dressed for their prom. I see young adults in their twenties with their newborn, who are excited to be out of the house and having a nice dinner. I see a guy and a woman out on their first date. I see an older couple and a same-sex couple who are out for their Saturday night dinner.
This makes me think about how each of these people has successfully made it to their various developmental stages in life. The youth that are about to attend their prom probably have parents sharing in the overall excitement for their children’s big night.
I then think about the children in foster care and how they have had their entire “universe” taken from them. I think to myself, “How unfair!” The situation they are in is not their fault, yet they are now faced with the challenges of being in “substitute” care.
In the U.S., nearly 400,000 children and youth are in foster care and 100,000 of these youth await adoption into a new, permanent family. Last year only 20,000 of the 100,000 foster children in need of adoption were adopted.
It should be a fundamental mission for all of us to provide these vulnerable children with love, care, predictability and nurturing. However some do not see the role LGBT families have in providing for these children.
Some believe that the only acceptable home for a child is one with a mother and father who are married to each other. The reality is that children without homes do not have the option of choosing between a married mother and father or some other type of parent(s). There simply are not enough married mothers and fathers who are interested in adoption and foster care. Our adoption and foster care policies must deal with this reality or these children will never have stable and loving homes.
Others argue that children need a mother and a father to have proper male and female role models. When we look around us we see that, in fact, children get their role models from many places besides their parents. These include grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, friends, and neighbors. In a case-by-case evaluation, trained professionals can ensure that the child to be adopted or placed in foster care is moving into an environment with adequate role models of all types.
If you were to look around you like I did, you will also see that families come in all shapes, sizes and genders. There are many same-sex couples that are interested in fostering and adopting children from the foster care system. According to the Williams Institute, nearly 3 million LGBT Americans have raised children, and 6 million children and adults have LGBT parents.
The first time that my partner and I were able to visit our “possibly-matched” children, we were asked to go out to a park and get ice cream with them. One of the children, an adorable little girl, 8 years old, asked me “Are you married?” In response, I asked her why she was asking that question. She replied “Because I see that ring on your finger…” I replied that there are many different kinds of couples, and I happen to be in a relationship with the guy driving the car. I asked her what she thought of that. I could see the wheels spinning in her mind….and then she replied “Ok, that’s good.” I knew this was a match made in heaven.
Same sex couples are faced with some interesting questions and need to be prepared to answer them with honesty. The children that are coming into their family have the right to know about what the parent’s relationship looks like, and how each child will fit into the family dynamic.
This brings me to the importance of understanding what a relationship and a connection truly means for children from foster care. A relationship has two important elements - an exchange of energy and an exchange of information between two people. Youth coming into a same-sex family will have questions. It is important for the parents to ensure that the energy and information they are sharing with their children is both positive and reinforcing.
For example, reading books like One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dads by Johnny Valentine, will help younger children understand that all families are different, interesting, and there to take care and love them equally.
If you are interested in getting involved as LGBT parents, or parenting an LGBTQ child, the best thing you can do is get educated around how to engage youth on these subjects, and stay involved with organizations that support and accept you for the truly unique and valuable resource that you are.
This May, HRC is proud to celebrate National Foster Care Month by honoring the leaders at child welfare agencies that are committed to improving outcomes for LGBTQ youth, the LGBTQ foster youth themselves, and the foster families supporting them. Stay tuned to HRC blog throughout the month for more foster care stories.