In the past, preference was give to young, heterosexual couples wishing to adopt children. But as more children in need of a stable parental unit continue to flood the foster care system and adoption agencies scramble to place them in good homes, the parameters for what federal and state laws deem to be “parent worthy” have expanded. While some agencies continue to be strict with who they allow to adopt, others welcome older couples, single parents, gay men and women, those serving in the military and people with disabilities.
Older couples might choose to adopt after years of unsuccessful infertility treatments. They might have put off expanding their family until they were emotionally ready and financially secure to provide for children. These couples might also have grown children and be ready to welcome younger children into their lives again. Finally, they might be the biological grandparents of children and want to legally adopt them. Increasing life-spans and the changing perceptions of older people is causing many adoption agencies to reconsider their stance as to how old is too old to adopt. Although the wait for older individuals and couples to adopt domestically can be long, international adoptions are often shorter. Likewise, foreign countries tend to be less stringent in their age requirements.
One of the most contentious debates surrounding adoption is whether or not single individuals make good adoptive parents. However, single parents choosing to adopt often are not dealing with the emotional or financial strain of divorce, or the rifts that can arise between spouses, problems that can be detrimental to a child’s emotional well-being. These parents are also usually older and more secure in their careers, and they have purposefully chosen a time in their lives to become parents when they are ready to provide for a child financially. As a result, their readiness to become a parent allows them to concentrate on devoting just as much quality time to the child as he or she would receive from a two-parent family.
Although adoptions are governed by federal and state laws, adoption practices often vary from state to state with regard to gay and lesbian adoption. Although the question of sexual orientation is not asked, the Human Rights Campaign has determined, through research and court proceedings, that 21 states, including the District of Columbia, allow adoption by gay and lesbian individuals and couples. Most states have unwritten, informal policies regarding these types of adoption, but some states, including Florida and Utah, either strictly prohibit gays and lesbians from adopting or make it a moot option.
In the past, military families hoping to adopt children met several roadblocks in the adoption process. Often, a lack of permanent residence and home ownership, as well as an inability to attend the required meetings, precluded these families from adopting a child. To better meet the needs of military families and to place children in loving and stable homes, military and agency personal are beginning to work in tandem. Federal grants in several states, including Pennsylvania, Virginia, Arizona, Alaska, Tennessee and Washington, D.C., are working to break down the barriers that might otherwise prevent military families from adopting. Military personnel are being trained to facilitate home studies and visits, and more flexibility is being offered with regard to when and how the entire adoption process is completed.
People with Disabilities
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s against the law to discriminate against people with certain disabilities or limitations as prospective adoptive parents. Agencies that reject a candidate based on his or her inability to see or hear, or categorically disqualify a person based on HIV status or past drug use and treatment, can be held liable. However, a family can be denied the placement of a child if the agency feels a person’s disability will prevent him or her from meeting the physical and emotional needs of the child.