Like many others who are building families, same sex couples who decide to become parents through adoption may be advised to consider a baby or child who has been diagnosed with a developmental delay, disability, health condition or other special needs. A child's diagnosis is just a small part of who they are and who they are meant to grow up to be. More than twelve percent of children who are adopted have some type of disability.
Those who participate in the foster care system may find that one - in - more - than - one - hundred - thousand who are waiting for adoptive parents is just the child they seek. Some older children or teens in foster care may already identify with or be questioning whether they belong in the gay or lesbian community themselves. Most are 'straight' but hope to find a good set of parents with no regard to their orientation.
Due to the particular circumstances that result in a child or teen entering foster care, and the results of instability in family and living arrangements as children are moved from place to place; children in the system may be more vulnerable to developing special needs related their individual situations, due to emotional or physical trauma; injury; neglect or loneliness. These are common enough among their same -age mainstream peers. Of course, most children with disabilities have encountered bullies and bystanders who have had negative impacts on their self image and ambition.
Finding a stable, supportive home with guidance and encouragement is the greatest opportunity for an displaced child, orphan, or young person in foster care, whether they have a disability or not. Lesbian or gay couples who are looking forward to becoming parents may see an older child or a baby diagnosed at birth who is just who they have been hoping to find. One or both may have had a friend with Down syndrome, a hearing or vision impairment, physical disability, or other characteristic that could not prevent them from knowing the marvelous ordinary person inside. Of course, those in the LGBT community have the same incidence of disability as the general population.
Gay or lesbian couples who adopt children with disabilities may face undue challenges where both partners do not have a legally protected parental relationship like second-parent or joint adoption, a domestic partner or civil union adoption. In the past, only the original adoptive parent in a same sex couple could have legal responsibility for a child.
Some areas of the country provide adoption options similar to those available for step-parents or second spouses. Without these protections a child is probably not covered by the second parent's medical insurance, social security survivor benefits;, or inheritance rights (NOTE: Many children with disabilities should be protected from inheritance through a will and trust).
Without this status the second parent does not qualify for family leave from work; may not be able to make medical decisions for the child in an emergency, consent to treatment or be in the child's hospital room. These are huge issues for any child, but especially for children and teens with disabilities. There is also the possibility that the relationship of the lesbian or gay couple will end and the second parent will not have visitation rights. Of course, this can also be a tragic consequence when one person in the couple is a biological parent.
And of course in the sad event of the adoptive partner being incapacitated, incarcerated, or dying; the parent without legal standing may find their child becomes a ward of the state; may be placed in foster care, or the home of a relative they do not know. Wills, guardianship agreements, emergency medical treatments consent authorizations, and other legal safeguards are important in those situations but do fall short of adoption rights. This information and more can be found in NCLR’s Life Lines publications at http://www.nclrights.org/lifelines. I am unaware of resources from advocacy organizations or parent support groups for lesbian or gay couples or individuals who are raising children with disabilities. Recent legislation in several states recognizing the validity of marriage of same sex couples has been encouraging for children and families' rights and security.
Peer support and resources about raising a child with a disability, or your own child's specific disability, may be as important as peer support and resources available for building a family through adoption. Being a gay or lesbian couple raising an adopted child with a disability is an alternative lifestyle only in the same way that raising any child is an alternative lifestyle. Perspectives, schedules, and priorities are turned topsy-turvy because there is a new life in the family. This is especially true with the first child who creates a family. Regular life becomes richly extraordinary and also amazingly mundane, no matter how we build our families or who we happen to be when we start out.
Update: With the advent of Marriage Equality, even though the 'second' same-gender parent is listed as a parent on a birth certificate, it is important that the second/step parent adoption is completed to have legal rights over their child to be legally protected in every state. Most of the time, the judge should grant the adoption without any issues.
Browse at your public library, local bookstore or online retailer for information, resources and support for your child's specific disability, parenting in general, and books like My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family, or The Complete Lesbian and Gay Parenting Guideand Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight?: Confessions of a Gay Dad
You are Going to be Dads
Every Child Deserves a Family
Raise a Child - 'Let Love Define a Family'
RaiseAChild.US is a non-profit organization that believes all children deserve a safe, loving and permanent home. We educate and encourage the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adoption to answer the needs of the 400,000 children in our nation's foster care system.
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