LITTLE ROCK, AR – The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas today firmly denounced a bill introduced to the Arkansas State Legislature that would ban gay people and most unmarried heterosexual couples who live together from adopting or serving as foster parents. The bill was introduced today, just months after the state supreme court unanimously struck down a ban on fostering by gay people.
“This bill flies in the face of what all respected child welfare organizations, social scientists, and Arkansans themselves know about what’s best for the children in our foster care system,” said Jim Harper, L.C.S.W., L.M.F.T., a Little Rock social worker who works with abused children and their families. “Foster care and adoptive placements should be made after careful, individualized screening of each potential parent, regardless of who he or she is. A blanket exclusion of any group of people that might be able to provide loving, stable homes when we have so many children in need of homes in our state foster care system is unconscionable.”
SB 959, introduced today by Shawn Womack (R-Mountain Home), would categorically ban lesbian and gay Arkansans from adopting or serving as foster parents, even if they’re relatives of the children in question. It would also ban unmarried heterosexual couples who live together unless they’re related to the child, which could prevent godparents or family friends from caring for a child if the parents die or can’t keep the child.
“SB 959 is a heavy-handed and ill-conceived attempt to do an end run around the Arkansas Supreme Court, which has already struck down a regulation that didn’t even go as far as this bill does,” said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “The proponents of this bill only care about singling out gay people and unmarried couples at the expense of children in need of good homes. They don’t care if an applicant is the child’s aunt or uncle, if that applicant has already been caring for the child or has a strong bond with the child – that child will be denied the comfort of that home if the applicant is gay.”
Arkansas’s Child Welfare Agency Review Board had established a policy in 1999 that banned gay people from serving as foster parents, and the Arkansas Supreme Court struck it down after a seven-year legal battle between the state and the ACLU. Several prominent child welfare groups took an interest in the case, with friend-of-the-court briefs being submitted by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, the Child Welfare League of America, the National Association of Social Workers and its Arkansas chapter, the American Psychological Association and its Arkansas chapter, and the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. These groups urged the court to strike down the exclusion because it worked against the best interests of foster children.
In overturning the earlier ban, the Arkansas Supreme Court wrote, “(T)he driving force behind adoption of the regulation was not to promote the health, safety, and welfare of foster children, but rather based upon the Board’s view of morality and its bias against homosexuals.”
The individualized assessments of potential adoptive or foster parents favored by child welfare organizations and social scientists are supported by most Arkansans as well. According to a 2005 poll conducted by the University of Arkansas, nearly two thirds of the respondents favored allowing placements with gay people if they pass the screening requirements that apply to everyone else.
More information on the ACLU case that overturned the earlier ban can be found online at: www.aclu.org/lgbt/parenting/12137res20050301.html.
Selected Findings of Fact Cited by Arkansas Supreme Court
in DHS v. Howard
June 29, 2006
In its decision in DHS v. Howard unanimously striking down the state regulation banning gay people and people with gay adults living in their homes from serving as foster parents, the Arkansas Supreme Court cited the following findings of fact based on the scientific evidence presented at the trial court:
Among the other findings of fact from the earlier circuit court decision:
The state allowed gay people to serve as foster parents in Arkansas before the ban and does not know of any child whose health, safety, or welfare have ever been endangered by living with lesbian and gay foster parents.
The exclusion of gay people and people with gay family members may be harmful to children because it excludes a pool of effective foster parents.