Sometimes parents don’t always do the best job raising their kids. Sometimes there is neglect, abuse and, sadly, abandonment. To help these children, the state relies on foster families. But there are too many kids in the system and too few homes. Rich Valenza, who founded the LA-based, RaiseAChild.us, which works to increase awareness and offer support to foster families, estimates 400,000 kids are in foster care in America and a need for 200,000 more foster homes.
These figures are mirrored in Utah where there are only 1,300 families for approximately 2,700 kids in the foster system, according to Mike Hamblin, director of foster/adoptive family recruitment of Utah Foster Care, a nonprofit working to recruit, train and support foster families.
Valenza said, “Research shows the two populations offering the most hope for bridging that gap are LGBT couples and single straight women.”
In Utah, foster families headed by LGBT couples became possible when the Supreme Court upheld Judge Robert Shelby’s ruling striking down the state’s marriage ban. Prior to the ruling, LGBT couples were forbidden to foster or adopt, although theoretically single gay people living alone could.
“Utah law states that unmarried couples cannot be foster parents. You have to either be married or a single person living alone. That hasn’t changed,” Hamblin said. “What has is the right of LGBT people to marry. That has opened up the doors for more foster families in Utah.”
John Wright and Wilson Bateman, a gay couple in Sandy, are among them. Literally overnight they became the foster parents to three siblings, ages 12, 9 and 3.
Bateman told me that having an instant family has presented plenty of struggles, but far more upside surprises.
“Kids aren’t a solution to relationship issues, but ours has become stronger because we share a unity of purpose. I think we fight less because we’re so busy we don’t have the time to focus on the petty stuff,” Bateman said.
“Sometimes it can be a roller coaster of emotions,” added his husband, Wright. “We have experienced every scenario we learned about in our foster training. Plus we’ve seen firsthand well-meaning women provide unnecessary advice and help because they think nurturing is a mom’s job.”
Fostering isn’t for everyone. The “goal” for kids in foster care is usually reunification with one or both biological parents. Becoming emotionally attached to a child only to have him returned to a formerly abusive or neglecting parent isn’t something everyone can handle.
Although the right to foster is a great victory for gay couples, what about the LGBT kids in the system?
“We do not formally track gender identity or sexual orientation for children in our care, but we do work case-by-case to place all kids in homes where they feel safe and their individual needs are recognized and met,” said Jennifer Larson of the Utah Division of Children and Family Services, which matches kids with would-be foster families. “When a child does identify as LGBT, we work with the foster family to ensure they will affirm the child’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve.”
But with 63 percent of DCFS staff saying they have experience working with an LGBT kid, and 11 percent with a trans* identified child, maybe more LGBT foster parents will mean these kids can have a chance for a supportive home with identifiable role models.
Maybe that role model is you. If you’re interested in being a foster parent, contact Utah Foster Care or the DCSF.