New Study: No Difference Between Gay & Straight Adoptive Parents

by David Perry

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday July 29, 2013

A recently released study by the Williams Institute confirms there is no difference in the behavioral outcomes of adopted children raised in same-sex households when compared to those raised by heterosexual couples.

"Parents' sexual orientation is not related to children's emotional and behavioral outcomes," confirms Williams Visiting Scholar Abbie Goldberg, who co-authored the study with JuliAnna Z. Smith of the University of Massachusetts. A national think tank at University of California, Los Angeles Law, the Williams Institute conducts independent research relating to sexual orientation, gender identity law, and public policy.

"More important are processes within the family, such as how well parents get along, and how prepared parents were for the adoption," Goldberg continues. "This is important news for policymakers and practitioners who work to place adopted children in permanent homes. Parents' sexual orientation should not be a relevant consideration; rather, emphasis should be placed on preparing parents for adopting a child, and enhancing or maintaining positive relationships within the family."

The study, "Predictors of Psychological Adjustment in Early Placed Adopted Children With Lesbian, Gay, and Heterosexual Parents," analyzed 120 two-parent adoptive families, comprising of 40 same-sex female couples, 35 same-sex male, and 45 different-sex couples, looking at aspects of the pre- and post-adoptive developments of the children.

For all couples, the child was under 1.5 years of age, and was the first and only child adopted. The findings are consistent with an emerging body of research showing that parents' sexual orientation are not related to children's emotional and behavioral outcomes, and the Williams Institute study is unique in that it is longitudinal - i.e. follows couples over time - and includes adopted children, as well as includes three types of parents: gay, lesbian, and heterosexual (Goldberg explains how past same-sex parent studies tended to focus on lesbian parents).

Aside from finding that the sexual orientation of the parents was unrelated to the children's adjustment, the study also found that:

Child age at placement - or the duration of time in the pre-adoptive context - did not emerge as a significant predictor of child adjustment (Goldberg and her co-authors believe this because all children in the sample were very young, under 18 months).

Parents' level of preparation for the adoption was related to both externalizing and internalizing symptoms, such that parents who were less prepared reported more symptoms in their children.

Parents' depressive symptoms were also related to externalizing and internalizing symptoms in adopted children, such that more depressed parents reported more symptoms in their children. Depressive symptoms may compromise parents' emotional availability and ability to parent effectively, which can contribute to child adjustment problems.

Parents who reported more relationship conflict during the early transition phase reported that their children had more internalizing behaviors two years later.

An estimated 16,000 same-sex couples are raising more than 22,000 adopted children in the U.S., and the Williams Institute estimates that two million gay, lesbian, and bisexual people have expressed an interest in parenting, a number dwarfing the 400,000 children currently in the American foster care system.

The results are long-sought vindication for LGBT adoption advocates such as Rich Valenza, founder and CEO of Raise A Child, Inc., a non-profit organization working to educate and encourage the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adoption.

"This study confirms the results of numerous previous studies to date," Valenza tells EDGE. "Simply, science shows that gay, lesbian, and straight parents do equally well in raising happy well-adjusted children. LGBT people make such terrific parents for children of the foster care system because many of us gay adults have relatable life experiences to the challenges that these children face"

By the 1990s it became well-known among adoption agencies that gay men in particular will adopt children other sectors of the population will not touch and thus stay in foster care the longest: HIV-positive and other health-afflicted children, those born as a result of incest, and those from abusive or drug-influenced backgrounds. While Caucasian children are usually adopted within minutes of being born, African-American youth, who make up the vast majority of children in foster care, can languish for years without ever experiencing a stable household, and often "age out" of the system without ever learning even the most basic skills of adulthood, such as balancing a checkbook.

Goldberg concedes that prospective LGBT parents, particularly gay men, still face an uphill battle. "For example," she says, "some gay men face more stigma than lesbians, since gays encounter stigma related to their sexual orientation and their gender. Some agency personnel may think they cannot parent effectively because they are gay, and some believe that they will not be effective parents because they are men. So, stereotypes about gender and sexuality may prevent some agency personnel from placing children with gay men."

"The children in foster care deserve better," declares Valenza. "Given the numbers, we believe the solution to the foster care crisis is within reach and the answer is right here within the LGBT community. What great history our community could write!"

David Perry is a freelance travel and news journalist. In addition to EDGE, his work has appeared on ChinaTopix, Thrillist, and in Next Magazine and Steele Luxury Travel among others. Follow him on Twitter at @GhastEald.