Four steps to becoming a foster parent

    A brief review of LGBT-related law in all 50 states would not find Pennsylvania among the most LGBT-friendly places to live. After all, 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 1704 still defines marriage as between one man and one woman — our own mini DOMA. However, Pennsylvania is a good place to live for LGBT families or singles looking to become foster parents. And with so many children in need of safe loving homes, this is a really good thing.

    While LGBT parents may have to jump through a lot of hoops on the path to adoption, the bare-bones requirements that potential foster parents must meet are generally less arduous. Under 55 Pa. Code § 3700.62, foster parents must be at least 21 years of age. They must also pass an initial medical appraisal by a licensed physician to ensure that they are physically able to care for the children and are free from communicable diseases. Although prospective foster parents must have “sufficient income,” there are no hard and fast financial requirements for the household that would result in pervasive socio-economic discrimination. There are also no restrictions preventing single people from becoming foster parents. In states where only married couples can foster, committed same-sex partners are openly discriminated against since their relationships are deemed legally inconsequential. On the other end of the spectrum, LGBT couples and singles can foster in all states that recognize same-sex marriages.

    In addition to state law regarding foster-parent requirements, there may also be municipal or county requirements. It is important to research local law before moving forward. Luckily, prospective foster parents in Philadelphia face no additional requirements. This is not the case for prospective adoptive families, who must comply with regulations under Philadelphia Rule 15, as well as those of the Pennsylvania Adoption Act. Failure to dispense with both state and municipal requirements will hold up the process.

    Once a prospective parent(s) has satisfied the basic points listed above, he or she can get down to the nitty-gritty of the process. Focusing on Philadelphia County, Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services lists four main steps: choosing a foster agency, obtaining background clearances, completing a home study and participating in pre-service training. Choosing a foster agency is pretty straightforward. You can search for one online. Background clearances are only required for parties who are 18 years and older living in the home, and consist of a child-abuse check, as well as a criminal check. Next, during the home study, a social worker will come to the prospective foster home to interview the family. This is meant to ensure that the premises are safe and adequate for hosting a foster child. After the home study, the prospective foster parent will be scheduled for pre-service training to help him or her learn about child health, growth, development and safety, including CPR certification. Sections of the course also focus on how to deal with sexually and physically abused children, as well as working with their birth families. Additionally, prospective foster parents will learn about separation and loss, since foster children characteristically deal with resentment, fear and sadness after having been removed from their homes. Again, this training is just another means of becoming better prepared to bring a foster child into your home.

    While the training course does a good job of covering the most important areas of foster-parenting, it does not discuss the likelihood that a foster family might get a child who self-identifies as LGBT or is questioning gender or sexual identity. Because LGBT youth are often subject to increased physical and emotional abuse in their homes, they comprise a sizable demographic of the foster-care pie. Their treatment in foster care is not a guaranteed improvement, as foster siblings and parents can be equally as abusive, if not worse than, the child’s birth family. While LGBT prospective foster parents may initially be more equipped to handle the needs of an LGBT or questioning foster child, DHS has included a section on foster-Child gender identity and sexual orientation on page 56 of its Foster Parent Handbook, which can be found at www.phila.gov/dhs/PDFs/fosterParentHandbook.pdf. On page 74 of the resources section, DHS has also listed seven LGBT organizations, beginning with The Attic Youth Center in Philadelphia. Simply having this information available is a dramatic improvement to the foster-care system. However, there are always ways to do better. Currently, there is no consolidated list of LGBT-friendly foster agencies in the Philadelphia area. If this resource existed, it would be very helpful both to prospective foster parents and foster children alike.

    If you are interested in becoming a foster parent in the Philadelphia area, a good place to start would be to contact the National Adoption Center located in Center City. They are a powerhouse of resources and can put you in touch with local foster agencies and provide you with information. The Pennsylvania Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network is another resource for families looking to foster, and can be found at http://adoptpakids1-px.rtrk.com/ or reached by calling 888-711-0671. Regardless of the agency you go through, it is important to remember that everyone’s goal is generally the same — to place a child in a loving home, regardless of the sex of the caretakers. At least that’s one thing LGBT citizens and Pennsylvania can agree on.

    Angela Giampolo, principal of Giampolo Law Group, maintains offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and specializes in LGBT law, business law, real-estate law and civil rights. Her website is www.giampololaw.com and she maintains two blogs, www.phillygaylawyer.com and www.lifeinhouse.com. Send Angela your legal questions at [email protected].