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A Debate Over Gay Adoption and Fostering

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The question of adoption or fostering by LGBT whether living with a partner or not remains controversial. There is one view that such applicants should not be excluded from consideration providing they can satisfy an agency that they can provide a home in which a child’s interest would be safeguarded and promoted. Others take the view that placement with LGBT could never be in the interests and could never provide a suitable environment for the care and nurture of a child. Despite the welcome legal changes, the realisation of lived equality is unlikely to be achieved for some time to come. For example, ‘gay-bashing’, pejorative stereotypes and disrespectful jibes are still common in the UK.

With the current shortage of foster carers and adopters, children services department is under pressure to increase the numbers of families able to care for children. Therefore, the research aims to identify social attitudes to sexuality and associated patterns of living. Equalising the rights of different groups and dismantling institutional and social barriers to the assessment and uptake of adoption and fostering.

Purpose of the Study

Adoption and Fostering by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) is currently legal in many countries including the United Kingdom (UK). According to Cocker and Brown (2010), in the last 15 years the United Kingdom (UK), have seen a profound change in the way that lesbians and gay men have been socially and politically located and acknowledged. Equally, the past several decades have seen an increasing controversy over lesbian and gay parenthood. Nonetheless, I believe it is fair to say that LGBT adoptive parents and foster carers have contributed to diversifying family forms in the United Kingdom.

LGBTQ communities have been further liberated by the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2013, representing a largely positive stance towards LGBT parenting (ref). However, same sex-marriage is still among the huge concerns that continue to take centre stage in many countries around the world. According to the Department of Education (DfE), 1 in 8 adoptions in the UK was by LGBT couples. The rise in LGBT parenting in the UK has transformed the way people conceive of how family functions in a multi-cultural society. All though there has been a great deal of social progression for LGBT communities, their expedition for parenthood still faces challenges.

With these challenges, Cocker and Brown (2010) argue that the paramountcy of the child’s welfare must remain central to developments in adoption and fostering practice. Hence, deconstructing the accepted discourse of Anti Discriminatory Practice (ADP) to enable new understandings of working with diversity, as this remains a central tenet of effective social work practice. It is important to address these issues (unique to gay and lesbian adoptive parents) so that social workers can examine their personal bias to make informed choices and configure society’s paradigm of what encompasses a family. I hope the study has highlighted further areas for research development as well as add to a practitioner’s knowledge of these issues. Along with creating a new climate in which there is much greater emphasis on the social acceptance and inclusivity of LGBT in adoption and fostering.

Further to this, there is an urgent need for more adopters and foster carers in the UK. In 2016, 9.6% of all adoptions in England involved same-sex couples. An increase from 8.4% the previous year. In 2018, around 460 of 3820 adopters which equates to 12% in England involved same-sex couples. Although LGBT households have through adoption and fostering practices become a node of diverse family configurations, such parenting continuously involves controversies.

On a more personal note, I come from a country and a culture which holds very strong homophobic views and opinions. This is also seen in Laws of the country such as the Offences Against the Person Act 1864 (OAPA) also known as the “Buggery” statute. Such Act means that same-sex marriages are constitutionally banned since 1962. Homosexual acts are illegal in Jamaica under article 76 of the Act levying sentences of up to 10 years of imprisonment with hard labour. With such strong cultural and religious influence, it is important for me to aware of, sensitive to and competent in working with issues of social difference, aspect of difference in beliefs, power and lifestyle to avoid unintentional discrimination. Burnham (2013) posit that “social graces” helps people to explore more fully the influence of particular aspects of lives that may have a dominant presence or, alternatively may be invisible or unnoticed as well as facilitating thinking around social differences.

Therefore, this research is relevant to social work practice as it aims to explore the extent to which discriminatory practices remain and deconstruct the accepted discourse of Anti-discriminatory Practice (ADP) to enable new understandings of working effectively with diversity, as this is a central tenet of effective social work practice. Arguably, social workers need to be capable of working in an inclusive and facilitative manner with all people, ensuring that negative discrimination experienced by clients are mitigated.

For the development of adoption practice, the welfare of the child always takes the presidency as enshrined by the Children Act 1989; 2004. Therefore, highlighting the social barriers for potential LGBT parents through a systematic review of the existing literature will enable practitioners to identify the barriers of gay and lesbian adopters and foster carers, and how social workers can respond to both individual identities and diverse family norms to enable effective adoption/fostering. Bearing in mind, this dissertation is geared not only to fight discrimination but also to provide better support of LGBT people through the adoption process.

Literature Review

Based on the body of literature this chapter outlines some of the experiences of LGBT applicants who choose to adopt or foster children. The literature collected indicated that homosexuals have been viewed as inherently threatening to institutional heterosexuality, to children, to family life and morality. These perspectives are evident in legislation which historically has constructed homosexuals as criminal, deviants and mentally ill. Section 28 deliberately determined that same-sex families were inferior as they were pretended family relationships rather than real ones. The privileged status of heterosexuality means that it is seen as natural, normative, morally neutral and ideal and is, therefore, the preferred living arrangement in which to bring up children. This is further supported by Hicks who note that although gay and lesbian is now legally documented within the arenas of adoption and fostering, certain family are inadvertently underlined as the most “authentic”.

In contrast, fear abound that if children were to be raised by same-sex couples it would be determined to their development, they would be subject to sexual abuse and bullying or would grow up lesbian or gay themselves. According to Logan 2001; Hicks 2005, the 1976 Adoption Act allowed the adoption of children by single people and by the late 1980s a few lesbian and gay men have been successful in their applications to become foster and adoptive parents. However, many have not been open about their sexuality fearing it would jeopardise their chances of approval, as when they do they did not receive positive responses from agencies so the practice remained hidden. The opposition of lesbian and gay foster care and adoption was founded on stereotypical and discriminatory assumptions. Even though, evidence showed that children raised by lesbian or gay carers are no more disadvantaged than those raised by heterosexuals. The scope for discrimination remained against LGBT whose “chosen way of life” may have been considered inappropriate for adoption or foster care.

However, the late 1980s and 1990s have seen a ‘quiet revolution’ whereas lesbian and gay men have ‘pushed against social, legal and practices to achieve their desire to foster or adopt children’. Subsequent arguments were made that married heterosexual couples are always best for children and that adoption by same-sex couples should be outlawed, used only as a last resort or circumstances demonstrating that the prejudice of the past has continued.

Pathologist views and lacking knowledge of front-line staff in the treatment of LGBT people in public institutions persist in many European countries. They might refer to their prejudices and beliefs and to common myths and stereotype that perpetuate misinformation about and negative social attitudes towards LGBT people (Morrow, 2006).

For those families which deviate from the traditional hetero-nuclear form, the impetus to display the positive nature or meanings of such relationships will be greater. This indicates that acts of displays are both impacted upon by wider power relations and can be open to differing interpretations. Those groups who do not fit within dominant or culturally recognised forms of a family may inadvertently fall outside of ‘wider systems of meaning’ (Finch, 2007, p. 67). Demonstrating that the recognition of “family” remains highly dependent upon wider dominant cultural meanings which are situated beyond heteronormative models of parenthood. Hicks (2014), Morris (2013) and Saltiel (2013) argued that within this late modernity, professionals should be able to recognise the variability of family and challenge assumptions of what a family is or can be.

Discussion

In setting out to explore this often-controversial topic, according to Gianino (2008) LG people who choose to adopt experience a phase of deep reflection to overcome introjected negative stereotypes about same-sex parenting. Largely because of heteronormative assumptions that are widely embedded in the social institutions and relationship, particularly the assumptions that LGBT is not suited to parent. This is further supported by Messina and D’Amore (2018) who states that one of the greatest challenges for same-sex adoptive parents consisted of overcoming stereotypes about the discordancy between homosexuality and parenthood.

However, Herek, Gillis and Cogan (2009) argue that the effects of internalized social stigma which can be ‘internal saboteur’ needs to be fought to realize the parenting ambition. The effects of the internalised social stigma the ways LGBT issues are addressed and theoretically approached. Contributions often underline the particular exposure of LGBT people to minority stress and research findings are consistent in indicating an association of discrimination, stigmatisation and victimisation with social and psychological distress in the lives of LGBT people.

The study is located in a social constructivist paradigm, which emphasizes multiple meanings and complexity, rather than a universal truth or truths. Social constructivism also prioritises meaning through interaction with others and the cultural and social norms that are at play in one’s life. From a cultural view of a parenting identity as mismatched with a LGBT identity or relationship. This incongruence was not only internalized but emerged in social contexts through encounters with others such as family members, friends, and even social workers. Therefore, social workers need to be capable of working in an inclusive and facilitative manner with all people, making sure that negative discrimination experienced by clients are mitigated. Whilst I agree to some extent that there is no universal truth or truths around sexuality, I am also of the view that individuals are afraid to challenge gay relationships because of reflex accusations about homophobia. This can be seen in the exclusion of the student

Christian Institute encapsulates that the difference exhibited by lesbian and gay families is wrong, damaging to children and morally inferior. It further went on to suggest that homosexual is represented as a threat to ‘normal’ family relations and children (Durham, 2000). On the other hand, Hicks (2005) argues that the differences exhibited by lesbians and gay men are not deficient but “just different”, and therefore should not warrant discrimination. Although research as proof that they are no essential difference between heterosexuals’ family and people of a lesbian and gay family (what research), it shows how different is socially constructed and imputed rather than characteristic (Hicks, 2005).

Developments in legal and formal policy framework do not automatically create changed attitudes towards LGBT people proper knowledge and skills to deliver appropriate and equitable social services are required. In this sense, it might be asked whether coverage in journal publishing reflects social work’s commitment to counter discrimination and marginalisation of LGBT people and to make LGBT-related knowledge accessible more broadly. Lesbian and gay people who choose to adopt experience a phase of deep reflection to overcome interjected negative stereotypes about same-sex parenting (Gianino, 2008). The tone of their narrative suggested internalized homophobia and self-imposed biases.

Deal with negative attitudes towards same-sex parenting and with negative attitudes based on their gender as men and parents. LG people experience prejudice, discrimination and stigma associated with their LGBT status in working with adoption and agencies and social workers. LG people encountered during the adoption process the discrimination and resistance from some birth parents to placing their child with same-sex couples.

Recommendations for Social Work Practice, Policy and Research

A critical lens needs to be applied to existing services and procedures to make them inclusive of LGBT families. Providing social workers and other key agencies with specialized training about heterosexism, and the needs for LGBT will be an important step. Integrating such content into university curricula will prepare future social workers for culturally competent practice. Social workers need to understand the complexity of LGBT parenthood, despite changing social norms and attitudes.

When working with LGBT who want to adopt or have adopted a child, social workers may need to assist in acknowledging and processing these perceptions. Therefore, deconstructing these discourses can provide an insight into additional strategies that are useful for responding to heterosexism, particularly when lived daily experiences do not fit neatly into normative schemes. Therapeutic interventions for families of origin that help them to explore their values and beliefs about family, parenthood and LGBT as parents that help them to adjust to their children as parents are needed. It requires appropriate knowledge and a stance that allows social workers to interact and intervene in a respectful and meaningful way (Morrow, 2006). Against this background, there is a need to focus on strengths-based approaches, heterosexist conditions and social justice for lesbian and gay people (Van Voorhis and Wagner, 2001). Social workers are not immune to possessing a homophobic attitude, therefore, diversity training is important. Social workers must deconstruct the idea of rigid sexual and gender identities and challenge taken-for-granted assumptions around parenting. The ability of social workers to respond to the complexities of human identities and relationships requires careful consideration, as it is a need which extends beyond sexuality alone.

Conclusion

Despite the historical and on-going context of prejudice, the policy agenda has shifted significantly, particularly over the past decade. There is now a legislative framework in place which protects and promotes the interests of LGBT young people and adults wishing to foster and adopt. Legislative and policy change does not remove the challenges for social workers. These challenges include offering sensitive and appropriate support to LGBT, as well as assessing those who apply to become foster or adoptive parents. Within this complex social context, many social workers and LGBT foster and adoptive parents believe that real progress has been achieved in the UK of adoption and fostering.

Whilst this paper has outlined some of the complexities experienced by participants, the increasing confidence of professionals working with gay and lesbian applicants should not be underestimated. It is paramount that social workers methodically assess candidates; however, questions arise as to how meaningful the assessment is when applicants must fit within a tightly defined realm of propriety. The implementation of new legislation does not necessarily dismantle the wider social hierarchies in which it is set. Although gay and lesbian identities are now sanctioned within the contexts of adoption and fostering in England and Wales, such processes are still complicit in producing distinct versions of acceptability. Whilst there has been a major shift in legislation and policy that can help to remove obstacles for gay and lesbian applicants, it is evident that further work needs to be done to dislodge the social work application process from its hetero-gendered bias.

The extent to which practice within this area can move beyond hetero-nuclear ideas around identity, family and parenthood are of primary concern. These findings do little to challenge popular discourses that depict the adoption and fostering processes as highly restrictive (BAAF, 2010). There is an ongoing need to draw upon critical perspectives, such as those located within wider post-structural, queer and feminist theory, as it is these which seek to disturb heterosexual hegemony and essentialist notions of gender. Much remains to accomplish to fight discrimination and ensure equal treatment and opportunities for LGBT people who want to adopt or foster. Promoting transparency in the adoption and fostering practice and increasing awareness and training among social workers could be the first step in this direction.

Whilst there have been fundamental changes for lesbians and gay men entering the adoption or fostering processes in England and Wales, this study suggests that the field remains configured by dominant familial and sexual scripts related to what normatively constitutes the ‘right kind’ of family or parent (Heaphy, 2011). For applicants, this means that they must consistently display their family and themselves in ways that are conventional, conservative or ‘ordinary’ (Hicks, 2011, p. 72). This is underscored by a concern that more complex aspects of relationships and identities may be misinterpreted or ignored by professionals, as these do not fit within a hetero-gendered frame of reference. Whilst I accept that some of my data was produced over 10 years ago, I do hope that this study will highlight the need for further study in the field to continue. Nevertheless, it is my opinion that heteronormative practices are alive and well, even though they continue to take new forms. Uphold traditional views of who ought to be caring for children within the care system.

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