By Megan Wadding
New research shows that children adopted by same-sex parents fare just as well as their peers raised by heterosexual parents.
The long-term study, conducted by University of Kentucky assistant professor of psychology Rachel H. Farr, was published in October in the Developmental Psychology journal. It followed children of same-sex couples over a long period of time, and focused on numerous aspects of childhood development and family life.
According to Farr, this longitudinal study compared outcomes for children, parents, couples, and the overall family system among nearly 100 adoptive families with lesbian, gay, and heterosexual parents at two different time points. The first data collection was done when the children were preschool age, and a follow-up set of data was collected approximately five years later, when those same children were in middle school. All participating parents adopted their children as infants.
The study assessed the welfare of the children based on reports from both the parents and teachers of the children. The parents also completed self-assessments about their own well-being.
“At both time points, child outcomes were assessed via parent- and teacher-reported behavior problems, while parent outcomes were assessed via self-reports of parenting stress levels,” said Farr. “Couple and family outcomes were evaluated by parent reports of couple adjustment and overall family functioning.”
The study found that parental stress levels—and not familial structure—were the biggest influence on a child’s well-being and likelihood of developing behavioral issues. It showed that parents with lower stress levels tended to raise children with fewer behavioral problems, regardless of the parents’ sexual orientation. Children raised by same-sex couples fared just as well as children raised by heterosexual couples.
Farr first began the study when she was a graduate student at the University of Virginia, and the first wave of data was collected between 2007 and 2009. Beyond her numerous personal and professional connections to both adoption and LGBTQ issues, she wanted to conduct the study because she hopes to contribute facts and science to the public debate about same-sex adoptions and parenting.
“Given that lesbian and gay parenting continues to be a controversial issue in our country, and in many places around the world, I have been interested in [addressing the] questions raised in these debates with research,” said Farr. “As sexual-minority parents increasingly adopt children, longitudinal research about child development, parenting, and family relationships is crucial for informing such debates. Empirical evidence can help to move public debate forward and inform policy, practice, and law.”
Farr said she was not at all surprised by the findings, for several reasons.
According to Farr, her results align with the more than 30 years of childhood-development research in the context of lesbian- and gay-parent families.
Her study is ongoing, so more findings will continue to be released. The next wave of data is scheduled to be collected when the children reach adolescence.
“At the heart of the matter are the many thousands of children in our country who are currently awaiting placement in permanent adoptive families. There is no empirical evidence indicating that [lesbian and gay] prospective adoptive parents should be categorically barred or limited from adopting on the basis of sexual orientation,” Farr said. “All prospective adoptive parents should be rigorously screened before adopting children, regardless of sexual orientation. Given that children do well with lesbian and gay parents, and that lesbian and gay adults make well-qualified parents, adoption and child-welfare agencies would do well to reach out to this particular population of prospective adoptive parents.”