S.F.’s Same-sex Couples Asked to Adopt Foster Kids
CLARIFICATION: In an article that ran on Page 1 on Monday about San Francisco’s campaign to get more gays and lesbians to adopt foster children — as well as an opposing evangelical campaign led by Focus on the Family to get more Christian families to adopt — the Chronicle quoted Paul Cameron, director of the Family Research Institute. The article should have noted that Cameron, who believes gays make unfit parents and self-published dozens of articles he said were based on his research, was expelled from the American Psychological Association in 1983 when he refused to subject his work to peer review. The article also should have reported that his Family Research Institute was named a hate group in 2006 by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Writings by Cameron, who split with Focus on the Family many years ago, are still relied on by many conservative Christians.
Gino VanGundy lived in more than 20 foster homes in 14 years as a child. Placement after placement, VanGundy wished someone would keep and love him forever.
“I wouldn’t have cared if my adoptive parents were a married man and woman, two gay guys or a single woman,” said VanGundy, now 36. “If you have just one person who believes in you, you are going to make it.”
With this intimate knowledge of foster children’s needs, VanGundy and his partner, Chris Moffet-VanGundy, are adopting a 16-year-old foster girl whose birth parents are dead, giving her and her yellow Labrador, Reynolds, a permanent home — and two dads who promise to keep and love her forever.
Today, the San Francisco Department of Human Services is starting a campaign to recruit more people like the VanGundys to adopt foster kids, especially teens, who are among the hardest to place. The agency sees gays and lesbians as an underutilized pool of potential parents.
“We’re always looking for adoptive homes for children, and we never have enough families,” said Debby Jeter, deputy director for the city’s Family and Children Services. “We believe same-sex couples have the ability to provide the same kind of family for a child as non-same-sex couples.”
It’s a tough time for foster agencies, which have to compete against international adoptions, in vitro procedures and surrogate mothers. So many prospective parents prefer babies and worry about the physical or mental needs of older foster children, who most often have landed in the system because they experienced neglect.
The campaign, which will include a billboard in the Castro featuring two dads with their teen daughter, is perhaps the first of its kind and sure to be controversial. It comes just two weeks after the evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family began its drive to recruit more Christians as adoptive parents, partly — the group said — to keep foster children out of homosexual hands.
Focus on the Family’s objection to same-sex parents is grounded in interpretation of biblical scripture and research by Paul Cameron, director of the Family Research Institute in Colorado. Cameron says gays and lesbians are unfit parents, are more likely to molest children of their same sex, switch partners frequently, have shorter life expectancies and cause their children embarrassment and social difficulties.
“Any child that can be adopted into a married-mother-and-father family, that’s the gold standard,” Cameron said. “An orphanage would be the second choice, and then a single woman.”
Focus on the Family’s drive follows the March release of a study by the Urban Institute think tank and the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law concluding gays and lesbians are a great untapped parenting resource, considering that 500,000 children are in foster care nationwide and an estimated 2 million gay, lesbian and bisexual people are interested in adopting.
The study, based on 2000 census data, says same-sex couples who are raising adopted children are more educated, older and have more economic resources than other adoptive parents. Past studies of how children fare with gay, lesbian and bisexual parents have found no negative consequences, according to the Urban Institute report.
California is among a handful of states where sexual orientation cannot be a basis for preventing someone from adopting. On the other hand, Florida forbids “homosexuals” from adopting, Mississippi bans “same-gender” couples from adopting, Utah bans fostering and adoption by all unmarried couples and Nebraska has a policy prohibiting gay people from fostering.
In San Francisco, gay men and lesbians already adopt a large share of the foster children who are not adopted by relatives — 88 percent since last July, for example, according to Dan Kelly with the Human Services Department.
Few, if any, other counties collect sexual orientation information, so it’s difficult to compare San Francisco’s same-sex adoption rate with other counties, according to adoption expert Scott Ryan, associate dean at Florida State University’s College of Social Work.
Aiding San Francisco with its recruitment effort is Family Builders, an Oakland nonprofit adoption agency with which the city contracted to match parents with kids.
Executive Director Jill Jacobs, who adopted two foster children, said the campaign will include advertisements and posters on BART and Muni to reach both sides of the bay. The efforts also will target singles and straight couples, especially African Americans, because of the disproportionate number of black foster youths in the system. Jacobs especially wants prospective parents to consider adopting older children because most of the 1,800 kids in San Francisco’s foster care system are age 10 or older.
The VanGundys, who have been together for four years and were married at San Francisco City Hall in 2004, had a toddler in mind when they first approached Family Builders. Then a social worker introduced them to a teen who lost her mother at an early age. After the girl’s father died, she ended up couch surfing — moving from one friend’s house to another — until someone contacted child protective services. (The state mandates that foster children’s names and images not be published so The Chronicle is not naming the VanGundys’ foster daughter. Her adoption is expected to be final in July.)
“People automatically assume that if you get an older kid in foster care, they come with a whole lot of problems,” Gino VanGundy said. “She is a shining light. She’s drop-dead gorgeous, smart, articulate, passionate. She has a 3.4 GPA at school. Because during much of her life she’s had to be so independent handling things on own, we’ve had to go backward. We tell her, you don’t have to do that, we can do things for you.”
VanGundy said he is able to be in a loving marriage and parent a child now only because when he was 17, a caring adult — a friend’s mother — stepped into his life and has supported him since. Now he wants to do that for someone else.
His daughter-to-be said she is slowly learning to be just a kid. Now she can focus on school and friends, not on finding a place to sleep each night or making money. And her dads encourage her to talk about her problems, something else she’s not used to doing.
“It’s easier for me (to have two dads) than growing up on my own,” she said.
The family lives in a new house in Fairfield. VanGundy and the girl acknowledge their relationship is sometimes wonderful, sometimes bumpy.
She is a teenager, after all.
Gay advocates hope San Francisco — already known for its strong gay community and champions of gay marriage — won’t be recruiting alone for long. The Human Rights Campaign, a leading national advocate for civil rights in Washington, D.C., and the North American Council on Adoptable Children are preparing a campaign to persuade foster and adoption agencies to seek out gays and lesbians.
“We are doing this because we get report after report from people saying they were turned away,” said Mary McGowan with the council, a lesbian who has adopted five foster kids. “I had someone from Minnesota tell me she called Catholic Charities, mentioned she was a lesbian, and then — click — they hung up on her. Homophobia is alive and well.”
Same-sex adoption by the numbers
101: Number of San Francisco foster children adopted July 2006 through last week.
84: Percentage of San Francisco foster children adopted by relatives.
16: Percentage of San Francisco foster children adopted by nonrelatives.
88: Of San Francisco foster children adopted by nonrelatives, percentage whose adoptive parents identify as gay or lesbian.
500,000: Number of children living in foster care in the United States.
14,100: Number of foster children living with lesbian or gay parents nationwide (3 percent of American foster children).
35: Percentage of lesbians who currently have children (16 percent of gay men have children).
Sources: S.F. Department of Human Services, the Urban Institute, the Williams Institute
For more information about San Francisco’s foster and adoption programs, call (888) 732-4453 or visit