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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Adoption and Foster Care by Gay and Lesbian Parents in the United States


Discussion and debate about adoption and foster care by gay, lesbian, and bisexual (GLB) parents occurs frequently among child welfare policymakers, social service agencies, and social workers. They all need better information about GLB adoptive and foster parents and their children as they make individual and policy-level decisions about placement of children with GLB parents. This report provides new information on GLB adoption and foster care from the U.S. Census 2000, the National Survey of Family Growth (2002), and the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (2004). Currently half a million children live in foster care in the United States and more than 100,000 foster children await adoption. States must recruit parents who are interested and able to foster and adopt children. Three states currently restrict GLB individuals or couples from adopting. Several states have or are considering policies that would restrict GLB people from fostering. Recent government surveys demonstrate that many lesbians and gay men are already raising children, and many more GLB people would like to have children at some point. We estimate that two million GLB people have considered adoption. Since prior research shows that less than one-fifth of adoption agencies attempt to recruit adoptive parents from the GLB community, our findings suggest that GLB people are an underutilized pool of potential adoptive parents. The report provides estimates of the number of adopted and fostered children of lesbians and gay men and describes the demographic characteristics of parents and children. We compare gay and lesbian parents and their adopted and fostered children to parents and children in other family arrangements, including married and unmarried different-sex couples and single parents (who might be heterosexual or GLB). While GLB parents are similar in many ways to other kinds of parents, we identify several differences in the key findings below. The report concludes with an assessment of how proposed bans on allowing GLB individuals and couples to foster might affect foster care systems and fostered children. We estimate the possible financial cost to states if they were to limit or deny GLB people the ability to foster, which could displace 9,000 to 14,000 children if pursued nationally. And while we cannot measure costs to children directly, we explore prior research suggesting that displacing children from their current foster homes may have harmful effects on the children’s development and well-being. The report closes with implications of this research for policymakers. Key Findings • More than one in three lesbians have given birth and one in six gay men have fathered or adopted a child. • More than half of gay men and 41 percent of lesbians want to have a child. • An estimated two million GLB people are interested in adopting. • An estimated 65,500 adopted children are living with a lesbian or gay parent. • More than 16,000 adopted children are living with lesbian and gay parents in California, the highest number among the states. • Gay and lesbian parents are raising four percent of all adopted children in the United States. • Same-sex couples raising adopted children are older, more educated, and have more economic resources than other adoptive parents. • Adopted children with same-sex parents are younger and more likely to be foreign born. • An estimated 14,100 foster children are living with lesbian or gay parents. • Gay and lesbian parents are raising three percent of foster children in the United States. • A national ban on GLB foster care could cost from $87 to $130 million. • Costs to individual states could range from $100,000 to $27 million.

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