MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Rachel H. Farr, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Kentucky
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: Controversy continues to surround parenting by lesbian and gay (LG) adults and outcomes for their children. As sexual minority parents increasingly adopt children, longitudinal research about child development, parenting, and family relationships is crucial for informing such debates. This longitudinal study compared outcomes for children, parents, couples, and the overall family system among nearly 100 (N = 96) adoptive families with lesbian, gay, and heterosexual parents at two time points: when children were preschool-age, and approximately 5 years later, when children were in middle childhood. Child outcomes were assessed via parent- and teacher-reported behavior problems, while parent outcomes were assessed via self-reports of parenting stress levels. Couple and family outcomes were evaluated by parent reports of couple adjustment and overall family functioning.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
- Results indicated that adjustment among children, parents, and couples, as well as family functioning, were not different on the basis of parental sexual orientation (lesbian, gay, or heterosexual) when children were school-age. Rather, children’s behavior problems and family functioning during middle childhood were predicted by earlier child adjustment issues and parenting stress.
• Children are developing well over time, with few behavior problems overall, regardless of whether they were adopted by lesbian mothers, gay fathers, or heterosexual parents. No differences among these family types.
• Although parents showed more stress when children were school-age (versus preschool-age), they also were more satisfied in their couple relationships overall. No differences by family type.
• When children were elementary school-aged, parents reported relatively high family functioning. No differences among lesbian, gay, or heterosexual parent families.
• Because family structure did not appear to be related to child, parent, or family outcomes, we were interested in how other factors experienced by these families predicted adjustment over time. When parents were less stressed when children were younger (preschool-age), and when preschool-age children had fewer behavior problems, children had better overall adjustment 5 years later (when they were school-age). Furthermore, these same two factors (less parent stress and fewer child behavior problems when children were in preschool) predicted better overall family functioning 5 years later.
• Thus, in these diverse adoptive families, as has been found in many other family forms, family processes appear to be more important than family structure to longitudinal child outcomes and family functioning.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: These findings are consistent with and extend previous literature about families headed by LG parents, particularly those that have adopted children. The results have implications for advancing supportive policies, practices, and laws related to adoption and parenting by sexual minority adults. The findings may also help to move public debate forward about parenting and child outcomes across a diversity of family forms.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: Research involving more diverse samples of lesbian and gay parent families (formed through different pathways to parenthood, greater variability in parent race and socioeconomic status, etc.) would be beneficial, as well as other modes of assessments (for example, interviews with parents or children, observational data, etc.). Additional longitudinal research would be useful, and we certainly hope to continue to follow these families over time, as children grow from middle childhood to adolescence.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: At the heart of the matter of adoption by lesbian and gay adults are the many thousands of children in our country who are currently awaiting placement in permanent adoptive families. There is no empirical evidence indicating any reason that prospective adoptive parents should be categorically barred or limited from adopting on the basis of sexual orientation. All prospective adoptive parents should be rigorously screened before adopting children, regardless of sexual orientation. Given that children do well with lesbian and gay parents, and that lesbian and gay adults make well-qualified parents, adoption and child welfare agencies would do well to reach out to this particular population of prospective adoptive parents.
MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.
Rachel H. Farr. Does Parental Sexual Orientation Matter? A Longitudinal Follow-Up of Adoptive Families With School-Age Children.. Developmental Psychology, 2016;
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