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Connecticut recruiting LGBTQ families to adopt, foster kids

Connecticut's initiative comes at a time when other states, like Oklahoma and Kansas, are passing bills to curtail gay adoptions.
Shannon Smith and his husband, Ross Stencil, right, pose with the couple's two adopted sons, Giovanny, left, and Louis.Susan Haigh / AP

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut’s child welfare agency has launched an initiative to actively recruit members of the state’s LGBTQ community to become foster and adoptive parents, bucking recent efforts in some states to curtail gay adoptions.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday that Connecticut wants to be known as a state that welcomes and embraces the LGBTQ community, especially considering there are 4,300 children in state care and about half of them likely won’t return to their biological families.

“We just have to get this word out,” Malloy said. “We have to get more of our children placed with our families in our state.”

The Connecticut Department of Children and Families’ new outreach campaign is one of a handful of efforts by state and city governments across the U.S. to encourage gays and lesbians to consider becoming adoptive or foster parents. There are similar initiatives in New York City and San Francisco.

Alison Delpercio, the Human Rights Foundation’s deputy director of children, youth and families program, said she has seen such recruitment efforts mostly at a county level or from private agencies. She said it’s unusual for a large statewide system to take a proactive approach.

Connecticut’s department plans to work with gay and lesbian organizations, such as the Connecticut Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and LGBTQ community centers, to encourage people to apply to become parents. DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said there are roughly 100 LGBTQ adoptive families already in the state’s system. She said she wants to increase that number to at least 250 by January, when Malloy’s term expires.

“There are hundreds, if not thousands of families, that have a lot of love to give,” she said, noting a 2013 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law that found same-sex couples are four times more likely than different-sex couples to raise an adopted child and six times more likely to raise foster children.

While there’s no official, up-to-date count of gay and lesbian adoptive parents, advocates say the number is on the rise.

The Kansas Legislature this year passed legislation that prevents barring faith-based agencies from providing adoption or foster care services for the state because the agencies won’t place children in homes that violate their “sincerely held” religious beliefs. Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer is expected to sign it into law. Derided by LGBTQ rights advocates, the bill was backed by the state’s Catholic bishops and conservative groups.

The Oklahoma Legislature overwhelming approved a similar bill, granting legal protections to faith-based adoption agencies that won’t place children in LGBTQ homes. Other bills aimed at curtailing LGBTQ rights in Oklahoma were derailed.

Efforts to place restrictions on gay adoptions have dissuaded some in the LGBTQ community from trying to become foster or adoptive parents, said Shannon Smith, who adopted two young brothers in DCF care with his husband Ross Stencil about six years ago. He said that’s why it’s important for Connecticut to reach out to families.

“I think it’s nice DCF is pulling out the stops to really let people know, ’Hey, your love is just as good as anybody else’s. Don’t listen to that other garbage that everyone is saying. If you’re a great parent, we’re going to get you a kid,” he said.

John Pica-Sneeden, executive director of the Connecticut Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and an adoptive father, said he plans to invite DCF representatives to talk with gay and lesbian business people at meetings across the state about becoming a foster or adoptive parent. He said many in the LGBT community can relate to what these children are going through, especially those who may have been shunned by their families years ago.

“Those are the ones who become the best parents,” he said. “They’re the ones that look at this child and say, ‘I will never throw you away.’ And that says everything to a child.”