ALL Families Matter
Randi M. Romo
As November approaches, many in Arkansas are lining up on different sides of the fence regarding Initiated Act 1 and its attempt to ban unmarried heterosexual, lesbian and gay couples from providing foster care or adopting.
Sadly, the most vulnerable, children in need of good homes are being used. Not only are unmarried heterosexual, lesbian and gay couples being targeted by the Arkansas Family Council, Initiated Act 1 will further define for ALL Arkansans, gay and straight just who can be a family. In addition to denying children access to safe and loving homes it goes further in that it will dictate to all Arkansans who they can leave their children with in the event of the parent’s death or disability. Regardless of a family’s wishes and belief that their blood relatives or close family friends who may be unmarried straight, lesbian, or gay couples will be the best choice to adopt or foster their surviving children; under Initiated Act 1 they will be unable to choose that option for their children.
We keep hearing that only married, heterosexual couples can provide safe and loving homes. And we all know that this is blatantly untrue. Our very own Governor Mike Bebee was raised by a single mom. And many more of us have been raised in a variety of family configurations. The fact of the matter is that in Arkansas only 19% of the state’s families consist of the highly touted “traditional family”, a married mother and father raising their biological children.
There are currently thousands of children in Arkansas who live in single parent homes and in homes with unmarried couples or caregivers. Over three thousand of these children already live in same sex parented households. And the truth is that the overwhelming majority of the children in all of these families are not remotely in any danger of being abused.
Ironically most of the children who come to foster care in Arkansas do so from heterosexual as well as married couple homes. The ability to procreate within the bounds of marriage does not guarantee good parenting skills.
Arkansas’ Department of Human Services (DHS) has an unofficial ban on placing children in unmarried couple or same sex households. However, marriage status and heterosexuality did absolutely nothing to protect the lives of the four children who died in foster care this summer. Yet there is no ballot initiative to deny heterosexual married couples from providing foster care or adoption. We know this was horribly tragic, the loss of these young lives, but it never occurs to us to make a blanket ban on this group of parents. Because we get it – that this is an aberration, not the norm. Just as the overwhelming majority of those who present as potential foster or adoptive parents will make excellent parents, regardless of their marriage status or sexual orientation.
The reality is that Arkansas is comprised of many forms of non-traditional families. These include grandparent’s raising their grandchildren, extended family members who live together, unmarried couples – straight and gay with and without children, step-families, single parent households, etc. Marriage does not automatically make any of these homes better for the children in them. It is only the quality of the parenting, the commitment to one’s family, access to resources and most of all, the love in the home that makes a good home for any child.
There are bad apples in any lot; just as with non-foster parent households, there will be bad parents revealed in some foster home situations. The remedy is not in excluding whole groups of potential homes for children. The best standard for any home for the placement of a child is in the rigorous investigation of the applicants and competent monitoring of the child’s interest in their new households.
All families in Arkansas matter. And if we wish to strengthen the bonds of families and increase the well being of our children then we must consider what is really in the best interest of children. Not only must we not succumb to hysteria, fear and misinformation and shrink the pool of potential foster and adoptive parents; we must look at the things that are affecting the well being of Arkansas’ families. If we really want to lessen the number of children who require foster care and adoption then we must address the needs and concerns of families.
Families need access to living wage jobs, parenting classes, individual and family counseling and if needed, quality drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Families need affordable and quality health care, housing, child care, groceries, transportation, closing the achievement gap, etc. All of these things help make a family stronger; this is what it takes to help families stay together. However, given the current economy and political climate we are a long way from being able to meet these needs.
So, in the meantime, we need to make sure that every single home in Arkansas that is willing to provide a safe, secure and loving home for a child is given the opportunity to do so. The 3,000+ children who are in dire need of a good home are looking for us to act like grownups and really do what’s in their best interest.