Abstract: Being and Becoming Adoptive Parents: Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Adoptive Parents (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

51P Being and Becoming Adoptive Parents: Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Adoptive Parents

Friday, January 15, 2010
* noted as presenting author
Suzanne Brown, MSW , Case Western Reserve University, Doctoral Candidate, Cleveland, OH
Susan E. Smalling, MSW , Case Western Reserve University, Doctoral Candidate, Cleveland, PA
Scott Ryan, MSW, MBA, PhD , University of Texas at Arlington, Dean and Professor, Arlington, TX
Background/Purpose: While lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals are increasingly adopting children, little is known about their experiences of adoption (Ryan & Whitlock, 2007). Previous research suggests that LGBT potential adoptive parents experience legal barriers to adoption and agency practices that are overtly or covertly discriminatory against adoption by LGBT individuals (Ryan, Pearlmutter, & Groza, 2004). The purpose of the present study was to examine the barriers, challenges, and joys of adoption for LGBT adoptive parents.

Methods: The qualitative data analyzed for this paper are part of a larger cross-sectional survey study of 182 adoptive LGBT parents. Participants were asked to write three short statements describing the biggest barriers or challenges they faced in their efforts to become a LGBT adoptive parent, the three biggest challenges they now face as an LGBT adoptive parent and to describe the three biggest joys they have experienced as an LGBT adoptive parent. The sample was 54.5% female and over 90% white; 92 identified as lesbian, 76 as gay, 5 as bisexual, 5 as homosexual, and 4 did not specify. The data were analyzed using grounded theory coding techniques and independent coders. The themes, relationships among themes, and direct quotations of participants constitute the results of this study.

Results: Parents identified LGBT specific barriers to becoming adoptive parents. At the structural level, parents reported discriminatory adoption laws and uncertainties regarding second parent adoption. At the organizational level, parents reported child welfare and private adoption agencies discouraging LGBT individuals from adopting or restricting available children to those with special needs (Gianino, 2008). Further, many parents reported both a lack of accessible and reliable information about the adoption process as well as role models to guide and mentor them. Interpersonally, parents reported that adoption professionals, birth parents and their own families questioned their ability to parent based on their sexual orientation. Challenges included living with legal fears and struggles as parents attempted to finalize initial and second parent adoption, and concerns about stigma for their children and families in the school and community. LGBT specific joys included being a role model to other parents and unanticipated increased extended family involvement and support.

Conclusions/Implications: Results of this study support previous literature (Shelley-Sireci & Ciano-Boyce, 2002) suggesting that adoption practices with LGBT potential adoptive parents are at times discriminatory and ambiguous in many agencies and areas of the country. While adoption of a child is not a legal right for anyone (CWLA, 2000), practitioners should evaluate LGBT potential adoptive parents on the potential strengths they bring to the adoption process rather than their sexual orientation (Ryan, 2007, p. 129). To address this, agency policies must be clear and unambiguous in their approach to LGBT potential adoptive parents. Practice guidelines should be established for adoption professionals working with LGBT adoptive parents and opportunities provided for practitioners to enhance their practice skills in working with this population. Future research should examine the challenges and joys as LGBT adoptive families as their support systems develop over time.