— Lyn Stoesen, News Staff
NASW and its chapters have been working to ensure the rights of gay and lesbian parents to adopt and foster children. The association's Arkansas Chapter is involved in efforts to defeat a ballot initiative related to fostering and adoption in that state, and NASW Policy Adviser Rita Webb was part of a recent meeting to address restrictions against adoption and foster parenting by gay and lesbian people.
In Arkansas, previous ballot proposals to bar gay people from being foster parents or adopting have failed, but a revised version of the proposal is being attempted and may be on the November 2008 ballot. The current version of the initiative is aimed at banning all cohabitating unmarried couples, including heterosexual couples, from adopting or fostering children.
The Arkansas Chapter has been working to fight the ballot initiative, explained chapter Executive Director Julia Baldwin. "The social work profession supports equality for all persons," she said. "We feel every child deserves a loving home, no matter the sexual orientation of the parents."
Chapter President Susan Hoffpauir has been particularly active in working against the initiative and represents the chapter in a coalition of organizations that has joined together to fight it.
Hoffpauir said the coalition, Arkansas Families First, is currently working on a "decline to sign" campaign to educate people about what the initiative does and to encourage them not to sign petitions to put the initiative on the November ballot. At this stage, she said, "we really have a focus on education so that people will understand" the initiative.
Hoffpauir said the chapter has sent a letter to its members to inform them about the initiative, explain Hoffpauir's work with the coalition and let them know how they can get involved in the campaign.
"We really want to emphasize that the coalition is broad-based," she said. "We have professionals who work with families and children all the time [in the coalition], and that's why NASW is such an important part of it."
In addition to the ballot initiative in Arkansas, Tennessee is also facing a challenge in the form of a bill before the state legislature to define who is allowed to adopt children.
A meeting organized by the Family Equality Council drew together a coalition of organizations to discuss reactions, responses and strategies to counter such efforts. The meeting, hosted by the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C., brought together a group of organizations, including the ACLU, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Foster Care Alumni of America, Voice for Adoption and others.
The meeting included a briefing on the status of adoption and foster parenting laws, a look at polling on the issue and updates from Arkansas and Tennessee.
A recent publication from Casey Family Services reported that about 65,500 adopted children are being raised by lesbian or gay parents today, more than 4 percent of all adopted children in the country.