Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Heterosexism and "The System"

I was just off reading FosterAbba at Navigating the Maze as she discussed the mixed messages we get about foster care and same sex couples.

I cannot speak with authority about the issue in general, but I thought I would share what little I know and what little I have experienced.

NASW (National Association of Social workers) has a very strong policy in support of GLBT families and individuals. I live in perhaps the reddest of all the states and I have this story to share. A gay man I know became a foster parent. The boy who was to be placed with him was living in a privately owned group home with whom the state contracts. The second time my friend went to visit he was told that the supervisor said that he could not visit the kid and was not welcome on the premises, because he is gay. He talked about it with the social worker who expressed sympathy, and asked if he could come in to the office in the next week. He expected to be told that they were very sorry and that they would find him another placement. He got there and was told that the supervisor of the facility was not a licensed social worker and so there was no license to lose, but that they had told him that if he did not allow my friend to visit the facility would lose all state contracts. They hoped my friend would go to visit the next day.

In other words, blatant heterosexism is not allowed. It can result in social workers and facilities losing their licenses.

That does not mean it does not exist though.

There are social workers who privately have different attitudes. When they have to decide where to place a kid and they can choose between a married male/female couple and a same sex couple will choose the heteros.

There are youth and bioparents who have different attitudes, and all social workers will try to place kids in homes where they are comfortable. A social worker, who is open-minded and accepting, mentioned a while ago that she was looking for an LDS (Latter Day Saints, "Mormon") family, preferably a single woman for the teenaged girl she had to place. The girl was LDS herself and was very involved in her church.

The gay and lesbian couples I know who are foster parents get what seem to be mixed messages but I think the answer is not so much mixed as complicated.

If I knew a GLBT couple or single going into foster care here I would tell them, "officially you will be welcomed. Unofficially, you will be dealing with a variety of people and some of them are jerks. If they are social workers they will try not to let you see that they are jerks. Once the social workers see that you are good with kids, you will get placements...lots of them."

It is important to remember that it often takes a long time for a new foster home to get its first placement. You are a risk. A lot of people think they can do it and then find they cannot. Social workers want to place kids with families they know and trust. Eventually though they just have to use you, so they do. Then they find out that you are good and they keep using you.

Advice: if you are licensed and waiting go to any event or class where social workers may be. Chat them up. Don't hound them about getting a placement, just let them see what wonderful dedicated people you are.


  1. That's all good stuff to know. Thanks

  2. I believe you nailed it, Beth. That is exactly what I would say about Fayette County - Lexington,KY. I was nervous about the perception of us as a biracial couple here - but once folks got to know us, it was smooth sailing - and even to our benefit in some circumstances. It breaks my heart that we would judge parenting skills on the basis of what gender one life partners with - especially given that good parenting seems to be a pretty scarce resource these days.

  3. Based on what our assessment worker said, I think that you probably have described a pretty accurate picture of what we will encounter. Since we don't have our license yet, we can't really expect a placement, even though other students in our class were placed prior to receiving their license.

    As I mentioned earlier, it's a lot easier to discriminate against GLBT folk in the abstract than it is to discriminate against someone you know personally. We will just have to wait and see.

  4. We've had some issues from people from small towns, but nothing but support at home. Only one caseworker has given us any grief, and she was from a place we affectionately call Small Town Hell. Luckily, the judge, CASA and kid's lawyer loved us and the work we did with the child.

    I have to agree that LGBT foster parents should make themselves known. Talk to the judges, lawyers, caseworkers and their supervisors. Let them see how your kids blossom with structure and love.


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