ALEC MAPA AND JAMIE HEBERT: FAME, FAMILY, AND FOSTER CARE

“I was booked to perform at one of her R Family Vacations cruises in 2007,” recalls actor Alec Mapa, telling Gays With Kids that he and husband Jamie Hebert were surrounded by so many LGBT families that they just knew fatherhood was in the cards for them, too.

“I met a social worker on the ship specializing in helping LGBT families find foster-adopt placement,” Mapa continues, describing how he got her card and promptly lost it back on land in the junk drawer that is his garage. What happened next was kismet.

“So, when I was finally ready to call this woman, I realized that card was in a box somewhere in that garage! And I reached into a box, and the first thing I touched on was that card. We went to meet her at the Extraordinary Families agency, we took the foster-adopt courses … and nine months later we had a kid living in our house.”alec mapa

If you don’t know “America’s Favorite Gaysian,” you know his face: Mapa’s resume is catalog of critically-acclaimed comedy, from “Desperate Housewives” and “Ugly Betty” (where he played the hyperkinetic Suzuki St. Pierre) to “Devious Maids” and “The Gossip Queens.” He met producer Hebert on the set of his one-man show “Drama” in 2002 and the two have been an item ever since, marrying in 2008.

But this journey to fatherhood differs from most. When Zion came into their lives, he was the kind of kid most prospective parents don’t touch: He was African-American, he was a boy, and, at age five, he was old. Moreover, he was a foster-child, meaning his birthmother had not yet signed away her parental rights. To top it off, he had already been placed with four other families before Alec and Jamie got a hold of him.

“And were like, ‘This is our kid! We’re not giving him back!’” Mapa, 51, laughs. “Three months into our foster placement, he had the TPR — termination of parental rights — and nine months later, he was ours!”

Foster care and adoption are two different legal animals. The latter completely and permanently signs over the rights and responsibilities of the child from the birthparents to the adoptive parents. The child takes the surname of their new family and loses all automatic rights of inheritance with the old. A foster child can, and often does, maintain ties with their biological family even while in the care of another, and the biological parents have the final legal say in decisions concerning their child. Additionally, fostering lacks the permanency of adoption; children often shuffle from one foster family to another until they reach the age of 18, whereupon they are effectively cut loose.

For all the good intentions, it is no secret American foster care is overburdened, with up to 250,000 children entering yearly. It’s not all doom and gloom; 33 percent are back with their families within 11 months, and only seven percent of foster kids remain in care for more than five years. However, the longer a child stays in, the harder it is to get out. Chances for permanent placement drop drastically for children over five, siblings, children of color, and for self-identified LGBTQ youth. Some leave the system only after “aging out” of it, and can face the possibility of being family-less.

“The children in foster care deserve better,” says Rich Valenza, founder and CEO of Raise A Child, Inc., a foster-adopt advocacy and education resource for prospective LGBTQ parents (and for which Mapa is now a spokesperson). “Given the numbers, the solution to the foster care crisis is within reach and the answer is right here within the LGBT community.”

The numbers to which Valenza refers come from a 2013 study conducted by the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA Law, confirming no significant difference in children raised by straight and LGBTQ parents, and stated two million gay, lesbian, and bisexual people express an interest in foster parenting. That number dwarfs the 400,000 children in the American foster care system, 104,000 of whom are available for adoption as of this writing.

Adds Mapa, “When we were talking about adoption, I wanted a baby. And when we met Zion, he was five and that was a baby. When you are five, you still need your mommy, you still need your daddy. Or two guys with a really cute house!”

by GaysWithKids.com, August 1, 2016

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Same Sex Parenting Cases: Evidence Over Ideology?

Evidence Over Ideology in Same Sex Parenting Cases?

Last Friday, a Utah judge reversed an order in a same sex parenting cases, he had issued just three days earlier that would have removed a young girl from her home because her foster parents are lesbians. Under fierce pressure that even included grumbling by the state’s Republican governor, Judge Scott Johansen issued a temporary reversal after first ruling that it was “not in the best interest of children to be raised by same-sex couples.” The shift is good news for the girl and her foster parents, April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce; for child welfare advocates; and for anyone concerned with fairness, equality, or evidence-based policy.

Evidence should trump ideology when deciding on same sex parenting cases

Yet the matter is far from over. Johansen set a December date for the girl’s fate to be argued at a hearing. And the judge’s revised order left intact a critical foundation of his initial reasoning: what the judge still calls “a concern that research has shown that children are more emotionally and mentally stable when raised by a mother and father in the same home.”

Hoagland and Peirce told a news station they believe the judge relied on his religious beliefs to make his decision, something that would be plainly unconstitutional. Does the judge have any sound reason to give straight couples preference over same-sex ones?

Asked in court to cite any of the “myriad” studies he reportedly referenced in ruling against the same-sex couple, Johansen declined. And for good reason: There are none. A research team I direct, based at Columbia Law School, conducted one of the most exhaustive analyses of peer-reviewed studies on same-sex parenting published over the last 30 years. Our initiative, the What We Know Project, started with the question, “What does the scholarly research say about the well being of children with gay or lesbian parents?” Our results, which are constantly updated as new research emerges, are posted at our site, with links to the studies or their abstracts.

What did we find? Currently, there are 77 scholarly articles that address this question. Of those, 73—the vast majority—found that children raised in same-sex parenting homes fare just as well as their peers. Could the four outliers be the “myriad” studies Johansen is referencing? Not if he’s done an ounce of homework and is being remotely honest about what the research says. For starters, basing a ruling that breaks a family apart on four studies that are contradicted by 73 others is questionable on its face. But equally important, these four studies do not actually prove what their authors claim they do, and anyone who looks at them closely can see that.

Reviewing the studies clarifies that they all suffer from the same fundamental flaw: While the authors tout the importance of large, random samples and imply that that’s what they’re using, they in fact rely on samples that are anything but. Here’s how this works: They start with very large samples that come from a reliable dataset like the census. In some cases the original sample is as large as several million people. Out of this much ballyhooed sample size, researchers struggle to identify families in which a stable, same-sex couple raised children from infancy—the relevant standard, since what’s usually being debated, as in the Utah case, is whether such a couple ought to be allowed to parent. So researchers create their own definitions for what constitutes an “LGB” family, and they are uniformly very loose. In some cases they just ask children if a parent ever had a same-sex relationship and throw the “yes” kids into a category called “LGBT families”—even though they are a world apart from a situation in which children are raised by a stable, same-sex couple. This is not to say one type of family is superior to another, just that we must compare apples to apples to yield any useful conclusions about same-sex parenting. (Many of the gay-supportive studies also use small samples, but their authors don’t suggest otherwise, and—most important—they are actually studying children raised by same-sex parents.)

Click here to read the entire article.

by Nathaniel Frank, Slate.com

Lesbian Couple to Keep Foster Child Utah Judge Shifts Ruling

Utah Judge Reverses Ruling in Favor of Lesbian Couple

A Utah judge on Friday reversed his order to take a foster child away from a lesbian couple because of their sexual orientation, state officials said. The judge, Scott N. Johansen of Juvenile Court, had issued an order on Tuesday saying that the child, a 9-month-old girl, had to be removed from the home of a lesbian couple by the end of the day next Tuesday, and placed with a heterosexual couple.

The foster parents, Rebecca A. Peirce, 34, and April M. Hoagland, 38, and the state Division of Child and Family Services, both filed motions Thursday asking the judge to reconsider, and said they were prepared to appeal his decision. The couple, who are married, lives in Price, southwest of Salt Lake City.A Utah judge on Friday reversed his order to take a foster child away from a lesbian couple because of their sexual orientation

The clash is the first of its kind, said Ashley Sumner, a spokeswoman for the state agency, because Utah only recently began approving foster child placements with same-sex couples, after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on gay marriage in June.

Under fire from critics including gay rights activists and the state’s Republican governor, a judge in Utah on Friday reversed, at least temporarily, his order that a foster child be taken away from a lesbian couple because it was “not in the best interest of children to be raised by same-sex couples.”

While the child may remain with the couple for the moment, Judge Scott N. Johansen signaled that the matter might not be settled. He continued to question the placement of children with same-sex parents, a matter that will be taken up at a Dec. 4 hearing on what is in the best interests of this child, a 9-month-old girl.

The judge’s actions, coming after the Supreme Court this year established a right to same-sex marriage, put him at the center of another front in the nation’s legal and culture wars: the question of whether gay men and women can get, and keep, custody of children under various circumstances.

LGBT Advocates Outraged at Utah Judge

LGBT Advocates Outcry: Rights Violation!

Utah Judge Takes Foster Child From Couple Because They’re Lesbians

LGBT advocates and even Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton were outraged and April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce of Carbon County, Utah, were stunned when Judge Scott Johansen ordered their foster child removed from their home. The judge said the baby would be better off with heterosexual parents.

The couple, who legally wed in October 2014, have taken care of the 1-year-old girl for three months, and her birth mother has asked them to adopt the child. The Utah Division of Child and Family Services has been forced to find new housing for the child, but officials say they will appeal the judge’s decision.

utah-lesbians

“We love her and she loves us, and we haven’t done anything wrong,” Peirce told the Salt Lake Tribune. “And the law, as I understand it, reads that any legally married couple can foster and adopt.”

Attorneys for DCFS are currently reviewing the decision. “If we feel like [Johansen’s] decision is not best for the child, and we have a recourse to appeal or change it, we’re going to do that,” DCFS director Brent Platt said. “For us, it’s what’s best for the child.”

“Any loving couple if they are legally married, and meet the requirements, we want them to be involved,” he added.

The child’s state-appointed attorney supports the couple. The birth mother’s lawyer, who was in court with the couple when the decision was handed down, has said the mother is upset and wants her baby to stay with the women.

Judge Johansen, who the Tribune reported has repeatedly been reprimanded by the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission for “demeaning the judicial office,” claimed to have research proving children are better off when raised by heterosexual parents. In reality, all credible major studies show that a parent’s sexual orientation has no effect on a child’s social development and mental health.

Click here to read the entire article.

Advocate.com, November 12, 2015 by Bill Browning

Supreme Court gay marriage decision could end debate over children’s well-being

Mashable.com June 21, 2015 by Rebecca Ruiz

Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo are like most American parents. They juggle work and family, try to keep up with household chores, and spend weekends with their two children, Wyatt, 8, and Elyse, 7.

Saturday nights are a special occasion. Mansell’s mother, who lives with the family in their Placentia, California home, treats everyone to dinner at a local restaurant. They come home, pile on the couch, and watch a movie selected by one of the kids. Most recently, Elyse chose the animated children’s movie ParaNorman.

It would all be rather ordinary — except for the fact that Mansell and Espejo are plaintiffs in Tanco v. Haslam, which has been consolidated with four other lawsuits under Obergefell v. Hodges, a landmark case before the Supreme Court challenging same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio and Kentucky. (The couple lived in Tennessee when they filed the original suit.)

While the case disputes the constitutionality of gay marriage bans, it also raises emotional questions about whether children of such couples are somehow worse off than the offspring of straight couples. An estimated 122,000 same-sex couples in the U.S. are raising more than 200,000 children, according to the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Though decades of research show no emotional or psychological harm, opponents of same-sex marriage argue the possibility of such a thing is a compelling reason to prohibit gay unions. This line of reasoning is central to the defense of Michigan’s ban.

When the Supreme Court rules on the case in the coming weeks, its opinion could very well render that argument irrelevant. Mansell would welcome such a decision, but doesn’t need the Supreme Court to say what he already knows.

Click here to read the entire article.

Amendment: Gays could be denied as foster or adoptive parents in Texas

by Christy Hopp, May 25, 2015 – The Dallas Morning News

Gays and same-sex couples could be turned away from adopting children or serving as foster parents under an amendment filed by a social conservative House member and expected to be heard Tuesday.

The measure also would allow child welfare providers to deny teenagers in foster care access to contraception or an abortion under a wide umbrella of religious protections for the state contractor.

Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, has filed the measure that gives state contractors for child welfare services the right to sue the state if they are punished for making decisions based on their religious beliefs.

The state could not force contractors to follow policies providing for contraception or allowing same-sex couples to adopt, for instance. If the state tried to terminate a contract or suspend licensing for the state contractors’ failure to abide by such polices, the contractor could sue, win compensatory damages, relief from the policy and attorneys fees against the state, according to the proposal.

Sanford tried to pass as separate bill earlier in the session, but it failed. The proposal now has resurfaced as an amendment to the sunset bill that would reconstitute the Department of Family and Protective Services.

Civil rights and gay equality groups fought a similar measure earlier in the session, saying, “If enacted into law, Rep. Sanford’s amendment would allow child welfare providers to discriminate against not just gay and transgender families seeking to provide loving homes for children who need them, but also against people of other faiths, interfaith couples and anyone else to whom a provider objects for religious reasons. This would seriously weaken the state’s child welfare system by further shrinking the pool of qualified parents who can provide a safe, loving home for children.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Foster kids do equally well when adopted by gay, lesbian or heterosexual parents

October 19, 2012 by Stuart Wolpert in Health

The psychologists looked at 82 high-risk children adopted from foster care in Los Angeles County. Of those children, 60 were placed with heterosexual parents and 22 were placed with gay or lesbian parents (15 with gay male parents and seven with lesbian parents). The age of the children ranged from 4 months to 8 years, with an average age of 4, while the adoptive parents ranged in age from 30 to 56, with an average age of 41. Sixty-eight percent of the parents were married or living with a partner. The psychologists studied the children two months, one year and two years after they were placed with a family. The children underwent a cognitive assessment by a clinical psychologist three times during the course of the study, and the parents completed standard questionnaires about the children’s behavior at each of the three assessment periods. The psychologists found very few differences among the children at any of the assessments over the two-year period following placement. On average, children in heterosexual, gay and lesbian households achieved significant gains in their cognitive development, and their levels of behavior problems remained stable. Their IQ scores increased by an average of 10 points, from about 85 to 95—a large increase, from low-average to average functioning.
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Breaking down barriers so foster kids can find a family

Seattle (CNN) — David Wing-Kovarik and his partner, Conrad, were ready to adopt a child.

They moved through all their requirements smoothly, even completing an orientation and training course for prospective parents.

Then they were confronted with their first real stumbling block.

“Our adoption agent said, ‘Well, you both look the same on paper, so who’s going to be the parent?'” Wing-Kovarik recalls.

In Arizona, where the couple lived at the time, only individuals and legally married couples may adopt from the U.S. foster care system. But because a same-sex couple cannot legally marry in the state, only one parent can be granted legal rights to the child.

“We saw (it) as a disadvantage to the child,” said Wing-Kovarik, 47. “We, frankly, got very angry about it when we thought about everybody else that was in the (training) class. None of them were asked this question. And it came down to the fact that we were a male couple. This was when we first experienced how being that gay couple just adds to the complexity of the whole process. It makes it much harder.”

In 18 states and the District of Columbia, same-sex couples can jointly petition to adopt a child. But in the other states, such as Arizona, the law either restricts joint adoption or is unclear.

That only adds confusion and frustration to what is already a “mind-numbing” adoption process, Wing-Kovarik said.

“It makes your head spin with the questions that are asked of you, with the forms that you have to fill out,” he said. “And then you have on top of that the fact that your family might not be that mom-and-dad home. You’re that gay or lesbian family … and the questions begin to change.”

To read the complete article, click here!

Arkansas court skeptical of reasons for banning unmarried couples from adopting or fostering children

Thursday, March 17, 2011 – Nancy Polikoff –
Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage

It’s always risky to predict the outcome of a case based on oral argument. Nonetheless, I’ll predict that the Arkansas Supreme Court will affirm the decision of a trial judge in Cole v. Arkansas Dept. of Human Services that the state’s ban on adoption and fostering by anyone living with a nonmarital partner violates the state’s constitution. The ban was enacted by voters in 2008. You can watch the argument on the court’s website here. Although a lawyer for the state did argue briefly, the lawyer who primarily argued for upholding the ban represented the intervenors, the Family Council Action Committee, the Arkansas group behind placing the matter on the ballot in 2008. The plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU, which has once again done a top notch job.

Before the US Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that its criminal prohibition on private consensual sex in the home violated the state’s constitution. The importance of that case, Jegley v. Picado, played a large role in today’s hearing. The trial court found the ban a violation of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights as articulated in Jegley. The appellants disagree, arguing that the ban is nothing like the intrusion of criminalizing behavior in the home. The justices did not appear to buy it. They repeatedly returned to the fundamental right articulated in Jegley and expressed skepticism that the ban was anything but a direct and substantial burden on the exercise of that right.

If the ban violates the fundamental right of the plaintiffs then it cannot stand unless it is narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest. But if there is no fundamental right at stake, then the ban survives as long as it has a “rational basis.” The intervenors and the state argued that the rational basis test allows the generalization that, as a group, the homes of “cohabiting” couples are less stable and more volatile than other homes, and that therefore an individual review of each applicant in such a situation is not required, even though some of those homes would be suitable.

When one of the justices asked the lawyer for the intervenors if he conceded he would lose if the court applied “heightened scrutiny,” he said no. He said the “life” of the child was at stake (that’s how he characterized the state’s interest on several occasions) and that the state couldn’t be required to place children in the “riskiest” and “poorest performing” home environments.

In what was perhaps the most astonishing part of the argument by the appellants, both lawyers asserted that the state’s screening process is not good enough to weed out unsuitable applicants. They called the process “imperfect” and “not foolproof” and said that mistakes are made. When one of the justices responded that the lawyer for the agency was acknowledging his system to be a failure, the lawyer said the Department of Human Services was doing the best it could but that people lie and “slip through” their process. He later backpedaled and said he had misspoken, but in the process he asserted the problem was everywhere and that caseworkers are overworked and the agency does not have sufficient funding.

So this is what it’s come to. There is no response to the assertion of the plaintiffs, echoed by judges on the court, that no one is allowed to foster or adopt a child without first going through an agency or judicial approval process. So apparently to justify excluding an entire category of applicants from the opportunity to show that a placement in their home is in the best interest of a child, the government lawyer must argue that his agency is not capable of doing its job properly. I find it impossible to imagine that the Arkansas Supreme Court will base its decision on such reasoning.

The lawyers for the plaintiffs reiterated the individual process each applicant goes through. He said that any studies about groups of children are irrelevant because of that, but he did further argue that whatever correlation there may be between “cohabitation” and child outcome does not demonstrate that the cohabitation causes the problems. He also told that court that it could not rule against the gay and lesbian plaintiffs without overruling the court’s decision in Howard. In that case a unanimous court struck down an administrative regulation preventing a gay person or anyone living with a gay person from being licensed as a foster parent. The authors of both the majority and concurring opinions in Howard remain on the bench.

One of the court’s newest justices, Courtney Hudson Henry, asked the lawyer for the intervenors the last question of the argument. She noted that a gay person living alone with multiple sexual partners is eligible to adopt, as long as that person doesn’t live with a partner. (I wish she has left the qualifier “gay” off her statement, as it is true for a heterosexual with multiple partners as well). The response she received was that the ban is concerned with the dynamics and volatility of cohabiting relationships and break ups and there are a variety of reasons an individual might be denied the ability to adopt or be a foster parent.

And so it has come to this. The same state that cannot be trusted be weed out cohabiting couples whose homes are not good for children can be trusted to weed out single applicants who sleep around (without having police go snooping in their homes, which everyone agrees Jegley does not allow). Of course, that’s not the point. In fact, the point of the ban has nothing to do with children and everything to do with stigmatizing both same-sex and unmarried different-sex relationships. I don’t think the Arkansas Supreme Court is buying it.

Couple Lose Foster Care Right Over Anti-Gay Stance

February 28, 2011
New york Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Filed at 1:35 p.m. EST

LONDON (AP) — A British court has ruled that a Christian couple cannot care for foster children because they disapprove of homosexuality.

Judges at London’s Royal Courts of Justice ruled that laws protecting gays from discrimination take precedence over the couple’s religious beliefs.

Eunice and Owen Johns, aged 62 and 65-years old, had previously fostered children in the 1990s, but what one social worker described as their “strong views” on homosexuality raised red flags with authorities in the English city of Derby when they were interviewed in 2007.

Eunice Johns said Monday that she was “extremely distressed” by the decision, which Christian groups also condemned.

But the judges ruled that Britain was “a secular state, not a theocracy.”