Foster Care for LGBT Families

Pride flagLesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults: we need you!! Although you may sometimes wonder if you can be a foster parent, the answer in Massachusetts is a resounding YES!

Not only that, but kids here in Massachusetts are in vital need of parents of all sorts. If you have love, patience, perseverance, flexibility and the ability to advocate on behalf of yourself and your foster child, you will be a great foster parent!

As an LGBT adult who wishes to become a foster parent, you may find you have questions that are specific to LGBT families. Luckily, there are many resources available. The first step is to reach out to the agency you work with, such as the Department of Children and Families or a private agency like Plummer Foster Care. Other resources include The Child Welfare Information Gateway, which provides a clearinghouse for LGBT parents.  They have a helpful FAQs page that will point you to a number of resources.

Thankfully, the cultural conversation has shifted away from suspicion of LGBT couples or individuals as parents towards acceptance of the idea that all children deserve loving, stable homes, and LGBT families are more than capable of providing them. This cultural shift has been helped along by research suggesting that children raised by gay or lesbian parents fare as well as those raised by heterosexual parents.

A study released this year, conducted by Boston’s Tufts University and an affiliated medical center, for example, suggests that gay fathers participate in parenting activities as often as their straight counterparts, and that their children experience approximately the same levels of happiness and anxiety as those raised by straight men. The Tufts study followed one released by the UCLA School of Law, the University of Amsterdam, and Columbia University, also in 2016. This study took an in-depth look at same-sex female couples, and found that children raised by lesbian couples enjoy the same physical and emotional health that kids from opposite-sex couples do. 

Reports indicate nearly six million children and adults in the United States have at least one gay or lesbian parent. Ultimately, being an LGBT parent is the same as being any kind of parent—there is lots of joy involved, but sometimes it can be very hard. That’s why it’s important to ensure that you have a robust support system around you, which includes friends, neighbors, family if possible, and even mental health and child welfare professionals. Families gain resilience based on the relationships they build with caring individuals and communities, and LGBT families are no different.

There are so many children in Massachusetts in need of loving homes. In the Commonwealth, LGBT parents are welcome and encouraged to become involved in the foster care system, and to become partners in the quest to provide an ever brighter future for these children. We are grateful to have you!

Foster Parenting Challenges: Responding to Self-Defeating Behaviors

crying girlChildren and youth in foster care sometimes seem unable to accept the positive things that are happening in their lives. An adolescent who has been looking forward to a class trip he has earned, may “lose it” it at school on the morning of the activity and have to stay behind. Or, a younger child receives a toy he has longed for and then breaks it when it is barely out of the package. It’s hard for foster parents to know how best to respond to these self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors.

So think about that “invisible suitcase” we talked about in the last blog post. That suitcase often includes low expectations of others and poor self-esteem. If a child doesn’t think that he’ll be treated well by others or that she deserves to have good things happen to her, a seemingly good experience may be anxiety provoking. Sometimes children have learned to sabotage good things before they happen in order to at least have some control over their lives. Other times, they feel they just don’t deserve the good thing, whether it is a special outing or a video game they have wanted. And sometimes they’re aware that their siblings are not getting such “goodies” and feel guilty about enjoying them.

Anticipating such reactions in advance can help you and your foster child. Consider reminding her that sometimes it’s hard to get really excited about something when she’s afraid it may not happen. Encourage your foster child to talk to you about his excitement and to tell you or another trusted person if he’s feeling anxious. If you will be at the event with your child, show her a signal he can give you (such as tapping on your shoulder) if he needs a break from the activity and a chance to chill out. With a younger child who has received a much anticipated gift, the most helpful thing may be to offer to keep it safe in a special place when she’s not using it so she’ll have it for a long time.

Thinking aloud in your foster child’s presence is also a great way to provide support. Wondering out loud whether sometimes kids feel guilty about getting to do things or have special possessions when their siblings don’t can give your foster child permission to feel these things without judgment. It may even help him share with you his mixed feelings, hopefully leading to a great deal of relief. In time and with your love and support, your foster son or daughter will be better able to handle the good things that life has to offer. Your patience and understanding will help make their journey to that better place shorter.