New book Explores Lesbian and Gay Adoptive Families

(November is National Adoption Month. Here’s my review of a new book on adoption by lesbians and gay men. Originally published in my Mombian newspaper column.)

There have been a number of studies over the past 25 years on lesbian and gay parents and their children, but few have looked specifically at lesbian and gay adoptive families—even though over 65,500 children are being raised by gay or lesbian adoptive parents in the U.S.

And while over two million LGB people are interested in adopting, over 115,000 children are still waiting for adoptive homes, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute.

Adoption by Lesbians and Gay Men: A New Dimension in Family Diversity, edited by David Brodzinsky and Adam Pertman of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, has brought together experts across several disciplines—social welfare, psychology, sociology, and law—to address these issues and provide a picture of this “rapidly growing new family form.” First, Cynthia Russett places adoption by lesbians and gay men in the context of the evolving history of adoption in the United States over the past 250 years.

Pertman and Jeanne Howard examine “the unprecedented, ongoing transformation in American family life” that includes an increasing number of gay and lesbian adoptive parents. They explain why the transformation “is a positive one for children who need permanent homes,” and give us a picture of current attitudes, policies, and laws.

Annette Appell looks more closely at adoption laws and how they have been applied in cases of lesbian and gay parents.

Several of the papers then look at best practices among adoption professionals and agencies.

Gerald Mallon draws on previous research to offer suggestions about the homestudy process. He shows how adoption professionals can treat lesbian and gay prospective parents with equality, while not avoiding relevant issues related to sexual orientation, such as how they plan to address homophobia with their children.

David Brooks, Hansung Kim, and Leslie Wind share the results of their study on the pre- and post-adoption services gay and lesbian families may desire, such as counseling and support groups. Many of their needs for such services are similar to those of straight adoptive families and “are being adequately addressed and met.” At the same time, there are some “significant differences” that may imply unmet needs. For example, more gay and lesbian parents expressed a need for legal advice.

Scott Ryan and Suzanne Brown look at how lesbian and gay people react to the stresses of being adoptive parents, and the social supports, resources, and strengths they develop in response.

Abbie Goldberg and Mark Gianino show how therapists and others can assist and support lesbian and gay adoptive parents.

Brodzinsky offers results from his national study of adoption agencies’ policies and practices. The good news: adoptions by lesbians and gay men “are occurring regularly and in noteworthy numbers across the country, through both public and private agencies.” The bad news: Nearly 15 percent of adoption agency directors surveyed were unsure about the legality of adoption by gay men and lesbians in their jurisdiction, or thought it was illegal, even when it wasn’t.

Two of the papers look generally at children with lesbian or gay parents, adoptive and not. Charlotte Patterson and Jennifer Wainright present findings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, showing that family type had little to do with adolescents’ social or personal development. Instead, it was the quality of adolescents’ relationships with their parents that mattered.

Nanette Gartrell, Heidi Peyser, and Henny Bos share results from the long-running National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study. While it includes only families created through donor insemination, it adds to the growing evidence that “children raised by lesbian mothers are thriving.”

Brodzinsky, Robert-Jay Green, and Katie Katuzny wrap things up with a look at what we know about adoption by lesbians and gay men and what we still need to know and do. Legal roadblocks still exist in many states, they remind us. Legislators, judges, and adoption professionals need to be educated about the social science research that shows adoptive children of lesbian and gay parents are as well adjusted as any others.

But while social science data “will be helpful, and ought to be determinative,” they say, “advocates of this type of adoption will need to find additional ways of countering the values-based arguments of those who oppose it.”

Still, additional research will be valuable—not only in reaffirming that gay and lesbian parents are suitable, but also in further detailing the unique needs of their families and how adoption professionals can best support them.

And there is almost no research yet on transgender or bisexual parents and their families. Given that more transgender people are coming out, say the authors, “It is very important that the professional community develop a better understanding of them and receive appropriate training to work with those who seek to adopt.”

Adoption agencies as a whole, they say, need to better educate their staffs and set a welcoming tone for LGBT families. They should also hire LGBT and LGBT-affirmative staff and reach out to recruit prospective LGBT parents.

This volume summarizes our knowledge of lesbian and gay adoptive families, contributes to it, and points out directions for future research, education, and policy changes. It is an academic book, not a light read, but should become an invaluable reference for adoption professionals, researchers, policy makers, advocates, and lawyers. Lesbian and gay adoptive parents and prospective parents may also want to read it (though they may wish to skip some of the nitty-gritty statistical analyses).

As Brodzinsky et al. say in their concluding chapter, the beneficiaries will be the many children who need permanent homes.

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