We have just celebrated Mother’s Day and National Foster Care Month in May, and now, in June, we’ll celebrate Father’s Day. We should not allow any of these celebrations to go by without thinking about the importance of making sure that all children have the opportunity to grow up in forever homes with people who love and care for them, regardless of whether those people are in families with single parents, two moms or two dads or another kind of family unit. We should pay special attention to the children who are in the custody of the state. These are our children, and we should be doing everything we can to make sure that they are placed in supportive and loving homes. That isn’t what is happening in Virginia, however.
While Virginia’s foster care rate (2.5 children per 1,000) currently is the lowest in the nation, Children’s Bureau statistics show that Virginia had almost 8,000 children in foster care at the end of 2016. More disturbingly, once a child is placed in foster care in Virginia, they are less likely than children in other states to gain placement in a forever home. According to the Virginia Department of Social Services’ own website, Virginia continues to lead the nation in the percentage of children who age out of foster care (21.2 percent), and the average time that children spend in foster care before they gain a loving home (16.2 months) continues to be among the longest in the nation. If Virginia is serious about changing these statistics and finding forever homes for the children now in foster care who will age out of the system at 18, it’s time to put an end to policies and practices that discourage any qualified parent(s) (single or married, gay or straight, young or old) from offering such loving homes.
This is especially important to the children in the system who are lesbian, gay, bisexualor transgender. Studies suggest that the percentage of LGBT youth in the foster care system is likely to be higher than the percentage of LGBT people in the general population (estimated at 5-10 percent) because LGBT youth are often the victims of discrimination and abuse by their families of origin. Many of these young people become part of the foster care system either by choice or agency placement. Just as or more disturbing, many of these youth –an estimated 78 percent – endure further harassment or abuse after being placed in out-of-home care, resulting in many homeless or transient youth who have chosen to live on the streets rather than suffer harassment, abuse and violence at “home” and an increased presence in the juvenile justice system.
Currently, Virginia does not allow two people to adopt the same child unless they are legally married to each other. Single people can adopt or foster legally, but the state does not actively encourage legally qualified single unmarried adults (whether LGBT or straight) to offer a child a forever home. This seems particularly to be true when the prospective parent is in a long-term, stable, monogamous relationship with someone to whom they are not married, but share a residence.
Add to this that, in 2012, the Virginia General Assembly became the second state in the nation (following North Dakota) to pass a law that explicitly allows private adoption and foster care agencies that are funded with tax dollars to screen and reject potential foster or adoptive parents and children in need of such services based on the agency’s religious beliefs and/or moral principles. This law allows state-sanctioned and state-funded discrimination against potential LGBT parents and foster children and others based on factors such as age, disability or religion.
It is past time for Virginia to end discrimination against people and families in our state and ensure that not a single person is prevented from adopting or fostering by "lifestyle" determinations that are nothing more than discriminatory practices that deny prospective parents the opportunity to provide a home for a child or a child the opportunity to find a forever family.
Virginia has finally repealed a Victorian-era law criminalizing cohabitation. It is time to put an end to similar antiquated policies that interject the government into our homes and private lives in a manner that bears no relationship to the qualification or suitability of a parent or the best interests of the child.
Every child deserves a safe and loving home. No child should be left “homeless” due to discrimination. No devoted prospective parent should be turned away because of prejudice.