Gay men and lesbians are near the bottom of an “unspoken hierarchy” of preferred foster carers and adoptive parents, an expert told Community Care Live today.
Julie Cooke, a trainer and consultant for the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, said many social workers were “conservative” when it came to choosing placements for looked-after children.
“Social workers think in terms of two heterosexual parents with a nice house and garden,” she told delegates at a session on gay and lesbian carers.
Cooke said there was growing evidence that many prospective gay and lesbian foster carers and potential adopters “waited an unbearably long time” for children to be placed with them.
“It’s all very well that local authorities open the door and say ‘we need you’ but then they keep people waiting,” she said.
Cooke cited adoption register statistics from 2004-7 showing just four children had been matched with gay and lesbian carers over the period.
‘Unacknowledged policy’ on disabled children
She also said there was an “unacknowledged policy” of placing disabled children and children with learning disabilities with gay and lesbian carers.
Dr Helen Cosis Brown, principal social work lecturer at Middlesex University, said public debate on the parenting abilities of gay men and lesbians had not moved on despite a raft of equalities legislation over the past 30 years.
She said the issue of homosexuality “raised anxiety” among social workers and said many showed “sometimes simplistic understanding” of equitable practice.
Cosis Brown cited the recent case at Wakefield Council, where social workers failed to prevent the sexual abuse of children by two gay foster carers because they did not want to be seen as homophobic.
“Basic competence goes out the window when people overfocus on one particular area of a person’s identity and a whole range of other factors get sidetracked,” she told delegates.
Cosis Brown added that there while there were still gaps in research on the experiences of children brought up by gay and lesbian carers, existing evidence showed placements were “not problematic”.
She pointed to the need for more training for social workers on the issue.
One delegate said they found it difficult to challenge homophobic managers who “did the bare minimum” to promote gay and lesbian carers but failed to support staff working with them.
Another delegate also pointed out that foster and adoptive carers found it hard to address the issue of children’s own sexuality.
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