Saturday, May 15, 2010

Baby Blues - A local push for GLBT families to adopt kids.

By Tara Murtha for Philadelphia Weekly:

It’s illegal for gays and lesbians to adopt in most of the world, including some states in the U.S. It’s banned outright in Florida, and in Utah and Virginia, adoption is prohibited by anyone other than married couples.

The laws are complicated. But here, it’s getting a little easier.

Gloria Hochman, of the Center City-based National Adoption Center (NAC), says more gays and lesbians would adopt if they weren’t intimidated by the information maze.

“We believe the gay and lesbian community has been underserved, and that there are many people out there who, if they knew more or could feel more comfortable about it, would be interested in adopting children,” Hochman says.

Last year, with a grant from the Wachovia Foundation, NAC launched the initial stages of a program designed to increase and facilitate adoptions by local gays and lesbians.

“The National Adoption Center has always been welcoming to the LGBT community, but we’ve never had the ability, because we’ve never had the funds, to do a major outreach, to work with families who might be interested in adopting and work with agencies to help make them more responsive to gay and lesbian families,” she says.

So far, NAC has printed and distributed GLBT-specific pamphlets and has canvassed local adoption agencies to train them on how to be gay-inclusive on their applications and advertising. In January, it launched Connections, an online social-network tool that helps match potential adopters with the most appropriate agencies.

Pennsylvania residents have it relatively easier than their counterparts in most other states. According to the Human Rights Campaign, Pa. is one of nine states that approved second-parent adoption through court ruling, which grants a second parent legal guardianship of a child without diminishing the rights of the primary parent. Second-parent adoption ensures that gay and lesbian couples—and their children—are protected when it comes to major issues like access to health insurance, hospital visits as well as everyday parenting rights like signing school forms.

It is one of the most significant legal achievements for gay and lesbian parents. But it was hard-earned.

Pennsylvania residents Jeff and Joey Grego, a couple from Erie, adopted a little boy in 1991, and a year later, a little girl. Still, both men wanted to be legally identified as their children’s parents. The couple brought the issue to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, where they won same-sex couples the right to two-parent adoption in 2002.

In some states, like Alabama and Rhode Island, a few counties have granted second-parent adoptions, though the right is not guaranteed by the state.

After legality, the second obstacle to gay and lesbian adoptions is illustrated by the Gregos’ early efforts to adopt: Jeff and Joey sent 362 letters of interest to adoption agencies before they finally received a positive response from Adoptions from the Heart, an agency in the Philadelphia suburb of Wynnewood. Just because state law says it is legal for agencies to allow gays and lesbians to adopt, doesn’t mean they have to. There are many religion- affiliated agencies that will not work with gays and lesbians.

In an area adoption experts say is “flooded” with agencies, help finding the right one up front is key. “If you’re a gay family, I would not send you to Catholic Social Services, for example,” Hochman says. “We steer people to agencies where they’re going to be welcomed and treated well.”

All of these recent stateside advances for GLBT families who want to adopt is coming just in time, as international adoptions—which experts say have long been a favorite route for gays and lesbians—are grinding to a halt.

“It used to be easier, but that’s no longer the case … gradually more and more countries started to restrict both adoptions by gay and lesbian couples and even singles who weren’t gay,” says Vicki Peterson of Wide Horizons, an agency that specializes in international adoptions. “At this point, there is no country that I am aware of that will knowingly place with a gay or lesbian couple or person.”

Next week, in partnership with the Sapphire Fund and the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, NAC is hosting an information panel at the William Way Community Center in Center City. Hochman, adoptive parents and an adopted child will be there to talk about GLBT adoption and to explain local laws and the process for potential parents.

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