The pressing need for more adopters and foster carers, as well as the potential of lesbian and gay people to have families has received a lot of press coverage over recent weeks. This was spurred by the introduction into Parliament of the same-sex marriage bill and the children and families bill in quick succession.
It is not the first time that adoption and same-sex unions follow parallel legislative tracks. Just over seven years ago, the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which made joint adoption by same-sex couples possible, and the Civil Partnership Act 2004 were implemented within the same month (December 2005).
Much has happened since. Initially, around 2.5% of adoption orders were for placements with same-sex couples. This figure rose to 4.6% last year. In the next year it is estimated that 4,000 children will need adopting, and that an additional 9,000 foster carers must also be found because of the growing number of children being taken into care.
Andy Leary-May from New Family Social , the charity run by and for LGBT adopters and foster carers which is organising the week, suggested — by way of illustration — that if just 2% of the community came forward to foster or adopt, this shortfall could be met.
Experiences of the process have improved in recent years, and 91% of the time members of New Family Social now say they are satisfied with their agency's attitude to their sexuality. However, some problems continue and the organisation regularly receives reports of instances of prejudice or plain awkwardness. Many agencies are now actively looking for lesbian and gay applicants, couples as well as single people.
In a continued effort to improve practice, it is writing a new set of advice notes that will be published by the British Association of Adoption and Fostering soon. These are not only intended to address any remaining prejudices, but also to support professionals in undertaking thorough, confident and considered assessments and decisions that may need to take into account contexts, histories or circumstances specific to LGBT people's lives.
An important new research study is also being published by the association this week – the first of its kind in the UK – examining the experiences of adoptive families headed by same-sex couples. This research has been undertaken by the Cambridge University's centre for family research. The findings suggest that children adopted by gay or lesbian couples are just as likely to thrive as those adopted by heterosexual couples. It also reveals that these "new families" cope just as well as so-called "traditional families" with the challenges that come with taking on children who have had a poor start in life.
These results are of course not unexpected. Many agencies have already pointed to the benefits of the positive choice many LGBT people make for adoption or fostering, and the commitment and quality of care they bring to it.
It is increasingly important to encourage LGBT people to consider adoption and fostering. Alternative options for parenthood are increasingly available because of developments in reproductive technologies, yet at the same time the number of children in care is growing. Important questions about why it is that more children are entering care, and what can be done to prevent this, must continue to be asked.
Anisa de Jong is an adopter, a trustee of New Family Social and a researcher on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adoption at the University of Kent