Policy & Practice: Policy & Practice Papers


Authors: Jeanne Howard & Madelyn Freundlich
Published: 2008 Sept. New York NY: Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
Document Type: Policy Brief (51 pages)
Availability: PDF Full Report | Executive Summary | Web Page | Press Release

This Institute report offers recommendations to increase the pool of prospective adoptive parents for children in foster care by changing state laws and agency practices so they become more welcoming of gay and lesbian applicants. This report builds on the Institute's 2006 Policy & Practice Perspective, "Expanding Resources for Waiting Children: Is Adoption by Gays and Lesbians Part of the Answer?"

The paper provides specific, research-based findings and recommendations relating to state laws and adoption agency policies. The recommendations include:


Executive Summary

For a growing number of boys and girls in foster care, the path to a safe, loving, permanent family is through adoption. These children - most of whom are older and have special physical, mental health, and/or developmental challenges - face gloomy prospects of succeeding in life without adoptive parents who can provide them with affection, nurture, support, and guidance. Often, their foster parents adopt them; in thousands of other cases each year, however, child welfare agencies must recruit new adoptive families to meet these children's needs. That reality has led to an increasingly urgent, nearly universal professional consensus that the pool of potential adoptive parents must be expanded to keep pace with the growing number of children in foster care who are legally free for adoption. Nevertheless, there remains considerable debate over whether all adults, especially those who are lesbian or gay, should be considered as suitable mothers and fathers.

Adoption by non-heterosexuals has been the subject of considerable interest in a rapidly changing legal and policy environment. During the early 2000s, a number of states enacted or attempted to enact legislation to prohibit gays and lesbians from fostering or adopting children. Recently, legislative efforts have taken a different form, in which legislation attempts to accomplish the same goal through broad language that prohibits unmarried, cohabitating couples from fostering or adopting. At the same time, efforts are underway to amend the existing bans on adoption by gay and lesbian individuals and other unmarried, cohabitating couples. In yet other states, laws have been passed to authorize joint or second-parent adoption for gay and lesbian parents (granting parental rights to the partner in a same-sex couple), and such legislation is pending in additional states.

This report builds on the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute's 2006 Policy & Practice Perspective, Expanding Resources for Waiting Children: Is Adoption by Gays and Lesbians Part of the Answer? and, like that initial paper, focuses on meeting the needs of waiting children. It provides an overview of current law and policy, and offers recommendations for expanding the pool of qualified adoptive families for these children by removing legal and practice barriers to gay and lesbian adoption.


  • Tens of thousands of children in foster care, who cannot return to their original families, are waiting for permanent homes.
  • Gays and lesbians are important family resources for waiting children
  • Research shows that children fare as well with gay and lesbian parents as those raised by heterosexuals.
  • Mainstream professional organizations across the social service, legal, and medical spectrum support adoption by gays and lesbians.
  • Excluding gay and lesbian adoptive parents carries significant economic costs.

  • Most children adopted from foster care are adopted by their foster parents, and banning lesbian and gay adults from fostering will reduce the number of adoptive homes for children.
  • State laws excluding gay and lesbian prospective adopters can negatively affect the pool of adoptive families for waiting children.[2]
  • Children are disadvantaged when state laws do not permit joint and second-parent adoption.
  • The legal status of both parents should be recognized across state lines.


  • Agencies vary in the extent to which they are welcoming and sensitive to all prospective families. To meet the needs of waiting children, they need to actively welcome all types of qualified families.
  • Agency policies for assessing traditional families may not appropriately assess gay and lesbian prospective adoptive families.
  • Traditional agency practices in preparing families may not appropriately prepare gay and lesbian foster and adoptive parents.
  • To serve diverse populations, including gays and lesbians, agencies need culturally competent staff.
  • Much more needs to be learned to provide agencies with clear guidance on quality policy and practice in recruiting, assessing, preparing and supporting gay and lesbian foster and adoptive parents.


    Implementing the recommendations advanced in this report will play an important role in increasing the number of permanent, nurturing families for the tens of thousands of children waiting in foster care for families. These recommendations provide assertive, practical, legal and agency policy and practice strategies to ensure that far more children who need homes get them and that fewer "graduate" from foster care without permanent family relationships. Efforts to find families for these boys and girls must expand and intensify - and gay and lesbian adults are part of the solution.

    [1] Please see Appendix B for a list of organizations and a summary of their positions.
    [2] "Waiting children" are defined as those children in the foster care system whose parents' parental rights have been terminated and/or who have a permanency goal of adoption.
    [3] Article IV, section 1, of the U.S. Constitution provides that "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records and judicial Proceedings of every other State." This constitutional guarantee provides that the rights and protections afforded in one state must be honored in others and will not be lost in another. [4] PRIDE (Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education) and MAPP (Model Approaches to Partnerships in Parenting) are two widely used curricula for training foster and adoptive parents.