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Foster Parenting

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Foster Parenting
chapter 5  | I’m Mom, She’s Mommy (or I’m Daddy, He’s Papa) |  149
Foster Parenting
Growing numbers of foster care placement agencies are placing children
with gay and lesbian foster parents. Children who need foster homes are
those who have become wards of the state for one reason or another—
most often, because they have suffered abuse or neglect by their birth
parents or because they have gotten into trouble with the law.
Foster placements can last anywhere from days to years. A foster parent is
only a temporary guardian of a child, and in most cases the state attempts
to rehabilitate the neglectful or abusive parent with the goal of returning
the child to them. If the reunification is unsuccessful, the foster parent
may get the opportunity to adopt—and in many states, there is a growing
acceptance of adoption by foster parents—but as a foster parent, you must
face the fact that the child may be returned to his or her family of origin.
States pay foster parents a monthly amount for support of each foster
child. The amount varies, but in many urban areas the allowance is
several hundred dollars per month. Obviously, people don’t become foster
parents for the money. Still, the monthly stipend can help pay the bills.
Some kids in foster care may be gay teenagers who can’t get along
with their parents—often the underlying problem is the teen’s emerging
sexual identity. Others may be children of gay or lesbian parents removed
from the parents’ home because of neglect, substance abuse, or another
problem. In both of these cases, placement with an LGBT family can
provide the most supportive environment possible. In some cities, such as
New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Trenton, New Jersey, agencies
have actively recruited gay foster parents for such placements.
On the other hand, in many places, an LGBT household has no
chance of being approved as a foster home. Nebraska, for example, will
not place foster children with lesbian or gay parents, and North Dakota
allows only married couples to become foster parents.
A battle has been raging in Arkansas for a few years over whether
the state must allow lesbians and gay men to serve as foster parents.
The state Supreme Court ultimately struck down a ban on foster care
by lesbians and gay men, and the legislature responded in March 2007
by introducing a bill that would ban gay people and most unmarried
150  |  A Legal guide for Lesbian and Gay Couples
heterosexual couples who live together from adopting or serving as foster
parents.
In November 2008, the voters passed the Unmarried Couple Adoption
Ban, making it illegal for any couples or individuals cohabiting outside
of a valid marriage to be foster parents or adopt children. Although the
purpose of the measure was to prohibit same-sex couples from being
adoptive or foster parents, it also has the effect of keeping all otherwise
qualified couples who are not legally married from adopting or being
foster parents. In 2011, the Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously struck
down the ban as unconstitutional.
In West Virginia, the Supreme Court recently prevented the removal
of a foster child from the lesbian family she was living with, rejecting a
lower court’s ruling that foster children should be placed with “traditional
families.”
Some states accept LGBT families but then give them low priority
for placement. And it sometimes happens that children are placed for
foster care with an LGBT couple or family, and then removed when a
homophobic social worker or judge learns about the situation. Just such
a case went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court, where a lesbian
fought and won a battle to keep custody of a young boy who lived
with her for two years but was removed—and returned to his abusive
grandparents—when a young social worker recommended against his
continued placement. The court held that the child’s best interests would
be served by allowing his foster parent to adopt him.
Applying to Become a Foster Parent
If you want to become foster parents, how out can you be? Should one
partner apply to the licensing agency as a single person, or should you
apply as a couple? And what is involved in the process?
A single adult sharing space with another adult can become a licensed
foster parent in most states. So if you want to keep your relationship
private, have one person apply as a single individual. But foster care
placement is always supervised by an agency and the court, so be
prepared to have social workers march into your home to look about.
chapter 5  | I’m Mom, She’s Mommy (or I’m Daddy, He’s Papa) |  151
Generally, being closeted is risky. The agency may find out the truth, but
more likely, the child will, and it’s not appropriate to ask the child to lie.
Before you can become a foster parent, your home must be licensed by
an agency (state operated or private) approved by the state. To get a list of
agencies, call the foster-home division of the county welfare department.
Finding an agency willing to place foster kids with lesbian and gay couples
may take a little work. Ask a local LGBT organization which agencies are
sympathetic. Agencies and social workers willing to make such placements
often keep a low profile, believing they are more effective that way.
Because you can be licensed by only one agency at a time, investigate
carefully before you choose to make sure you have found the most gayfriendly agency. Once you select an agency, you fill out an application
and are interviewed by an employee of the agency. Some common
requirements for foster parents are:
• you should be able to provide a separate room for the child
• you must undergo a medical exam to make sure you are in
reasonably good health
• you must be fingerprinted—ex-felons and sex offenders aren’t
eligible, and
• if you’re open to having a young child placed with you, you must
demonstrate that you have time to care for the child or have
arranged for child care.
Above all, you must demonstrate that you are stable and responsible
and will provide a good temporary home for a child who has often
already suffered trauma.
You may have a choice of getting a general foster-home license and
having the agency place a child, or becoming licensed as a foster home
for a particular child. When on the general list, you have the option of
refusing a child if you and the child don’t hit it off. Getting licensed to
foster a specific child works differently, as described in this example.
Example: Michael and Ron had befriended Scott, a gay boy of 14.
Scott was living at an institution and on weekend days caught a bus
to Michael and Ron’s. They drove him back in the evenings. On
Thanksgiving, Scott said to Ron, “Wouldn’t it be great to live here
152  |  A Legal guide for Lesbian and Gay Couples
all the time?” Ron sighed. “It’d be wonderful—but it’s impossible.
We all know that.” Later, Michael and Ron wondered if it really was
impossible. They contacted Scott’s social worker, who agreed that
placing Scott in Michael and Ron’s home would be good for him.
The social worker sent Michael and Ron the application forms, and a
license was granted. Scott lived happily in Michael and Ron’s home.
Getting licensed as a foster parent takes some paperwork. Usually
the agency will assist you with it, so you shouldn’t need an attorney. If,
however, you want some help or you think you’re being discriminated
against, you may need to hire a lawyer.
It’s often easier for a gay person or couple to become licensed foster
parents than it is to actually have children placed in their home. And
because foster placement is always considered temporary, the child can be
removed at your request, the child’s request, or the request of the agency
or government probation officers. So there are uncertainties to being a
foster parent, especially for an LGBT family.
Placing Gay Kids (and Kids of Gays) in Gay Homes
Placing gay kids, especially teens, in large group homes can be
problematic because of homophobia and the special needs of LGBT
(and questioning) youth. Some agencies will approve stable, caring, gay
households for placement of LGBT teenagers or children of gay or lesbian
parents who need foster care. If you have a particular interest in fostering
a lesbian or gay teenager and you live in an area where the foster care
agency is supportive, let your caseworker know.
Tip
In California, numerous agencies support placement of lesbian and
gay youth with LGBT families. The Foster Licensing Division of the Department
of Social Services in San Francisco licenses lesbian and gay foster homes. In Los
Angeles, Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services (GLASS) certifies gay and
lesbian families to become licensed foster parents. GLASS also runs group homes
to place gay, lesbian, and HIV-positive teens. A private agency called Alternative
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