In Good Conscience

annual report cover photoAs April draws to a close, the weather is warming and all around us nature is flourishing from the early spring rains. May is a month dedicated to raising awareness about children in foster care and foster families. Children deserve to flourish in the same way our Earth does, not only in the spring, but all year round. Our laws, policies and practices in foster care and adoption must be dedicated to ensuring this outcome. This requires us to treat all families as equal and focus on expanding opportunities for children to join qualified, loving families. It will be difficult though to achieve healthy outcomes for children and families when some states continue to uphold same sex marriage bans, and other states seek legislation that would allow agencies to judge potential parents not on their qualifications, but their sexual orientation and gender identity.

On April 28th, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Obergefell, et al. v. Hodges, et al., which challenges the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans in states under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In states that uphold same sex marriage bans, the harms to children are many, including health and safety, economic security, and psychological well being. These parents and their children are denied access to privileges and critical resources that support families and enhance stability for children. Marriage bans can also significantly limit children’s opportunities to join potentially willing, qualified and loving families.

Meanwhile other states, such as Michigan, Florida and Alabama, have or are considering laws that would allow agencies providing foster care and adoption services to discriminate against qualified prospective parents based on the agency’s religious beliefs or moral convictions. The bills would extend even to agencies who receive public funding. These laws have been termed ‘conscience bills’ and in effect legalize discrimination under the guise of ‘religious freedom’.

It seems that some individuals believe that personal convictions should trump an abundant research base that supports lesbian and gay parenting as well as the dire circumstance of the hundreds of thousands of children in the foster care system in need of homes. This need is critical. Right now in the United States, the most current statistics indicate that 402,000 children are living in foster care; 102,000 of these children are awaiting the permanency of adoption. At the end of 2013, over 23,000 children aged out of the foster care system without having the support and stability of a family. As you can imagine, the outcomes for many children who age out of foster care without a permanent family are grim, and can include homelessness, unemployment, involvement with the criminal justice system and poverty.

DAI has conducted research that demonstrates that children growing up in lesbian and gay headed households show similar patterns of adjustment as those raised by heterosexuals. These findings are in keeping with a quarter century of research that has found that children raised by lesbian and gay parents fare as well as those reared by heterosexual parents.  Major professional groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, as well as national and state child welfare organizations, overwhelmingly support adoptions by qualified same-sex parents.

Given the ever growing need for qualified foster homes, all states should be creating pathways to increase their pool of qualified parents, not limit them. And all states should ensure that children being raised by same sex parents are entitled to the same rights, privileges and protections as children being raised by heterosexual parents.

We cannot, as a country, espouse the principle of equality in theory only; our actions must always reflect this core value as well. DAI urges our supporters to stand with us in opposing any law, policy or regulation that treats families unequally and harms children.

Changes in laws and policies are a critical first step to address these issues; even then that doesn’t guarantee a change in behavior. So from there we must all actively engage in changing our attitudes and beliefs about adoption, foster care and what it means to be family. It is within this notion of transforming our consciousness that we will effect the most profound and lasting changes to the system that engages in adoption transactions. The landscape of the American Family is changing every day, with diversity in structure, form and appearance. Ideally we will not simply tolerate these differences, but embrace them for the richness that diversity brings to our lives. This is how we will act in good conscience towards our children. And they deserve it.