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Gay Foster Care

Foster care offers gay men the opportunity to provide a home, either temporarily or permanently, to one of the more than 400,000 children in the nation's foster care system.

These children have been removed from the homes of their biological families after experiencing neglect or abuse. The process of becoming a foster dad can be overwhelming and emotional, but it’s also an incredibly important and rewarding way to form your family.

The best way to learn the ins-and-outs of Foster Care  is to join the GWK Academy.  Members of the Academy have access to  the world’s largest social community dedicated exclusively to gay dads and dads-to-be. GWK Academy has been intentionally designed to eliminate much of the confusion and uncertainty that would otherwise plague your journey to fatherhood.

The information detailed below is just a sampling of the insights and support you will get as a member of the Academy.  So let’s start by answering some basic questions.

1. Is the Foster Care System Right For Me?

There are many misconceptions surrounding the foster care system, also known as the child welfare system. The truth is that children in foster care are removed from their homes – at no fault of their own – due to abuse or neglect. There are more than 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S., ranging in age from infants to young adults.

A foster family provides a safe, temporary home to a child (or children) who desperately need one and plays a crucial role in helping that child to heal. While the goal of foster care is successful reunification with the birth family, only about half of children removed from their homes end up returning.

Approximately 120,000 children are currently waiting to be adopted. And, about 20 percent of those children “age-out” of care each year without permanent families.

Foster families provide loving homes for a child (or children) for days, months, even a year or longer. If a child’s birth parents have had their parental rights terminated (voluntarily or by the court), foster families may also permanently adopt. This is sometimes referred to as foster-to-adopt.

2. Who Are the Children in Foster Care?

Sadly, more than 40,000 children are removed from their homes each year. The reasons are varied — but frequently poverty is a contributing factor. While poverty alone is not a reason to remove a child from their home, it frequently leads to circumstances that lead to neglect. For example, in the case of substance abuse, some families simply cannot afford to get the treatment they need.

Whatever the reason, the children are not at fault. While they come from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds and they range in age from infant to 18 years+ (some states have extended age limits to a few years beyond a child’s 18th birthday,) there are some groups who are overrepresented in the foster care system.

The number of African American children in foster care, while smaller than it was a decade ago, continues to be disproportionate relative to the population. Similarly, children from native cultures, and in some states Hispanic or Latino children, are more likely to enter foster care. These children are likely to remain there longer than white children.

According to a 2019 study more than 30 percent of children in foster care identify as LGBTQ+. These youth are more likely to suffer harassment and abuse while in foster care. Many are abandoned by their birth families due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, only to enter a system that does not provide the support and safe space they need.

Unfortunately, the child welfare system in the United States is being stretched beyond its capacity. There are simply more children in need of a home than there are available homes.

3. Is Fostering the Right Way to Start My Family?

If your goal is to adopt a child from the foster care system, you will achieve that goal eventually! It just may not be the first child who comes to stay with you — or even your fifth. But if you approach fostering with the intention of making a lifelong impact in a child’s life, and you trust that the “right” child will eventually become “your child,” being a foster dad can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

Of course, knowing you’ve done the right thing for a child doesn’t mean it’s easy. You may fall in love with a child, and a child may fall in love with you, but being a foster dad means supporting the overall goal of reunification – of bringing families back together – and the truth is that when that child leaves your care, it can be heartbreaking.

One thing to ask yourself is, “Am I driven by the desire to give a child a supportive, safe and loving home, no matter how temporary?” If your answer is “yes,” you could be making a positive difference in a child’s life that goes far beyond what you may ever see or understand. But if your answer is “no,” that doesn’t necessarily mean foster parenting is not for you.

After a child’s birth parents have had their parental rights legally terminated, it is more likely that fostering this child can lead to permanent adoption. But there are some things to know. First, these children are typically over age 8 (many are teenagers) or are sibling sets. They may also have a more significant history of trauma, which comes from being in the foster care system for a long time.

If you desire to parent an infant or young child, this may not be the best route for your family. But if you are willing to open your home and your heart to an older child (or children), there are many children currently waiting for a forever family.

Deciding if fostering a child is right for you involves some additional soul searching. It requires being honest with yourself and taking inventory of your own capabilities and limitations. For example, could you foster an infant? What about an older teen or siblings who want to stay together? Do you support the overall goal of reunifying a child with their family of origin?

There are many paths to fatherhood, and only you can decide which is the best one for you. And it’s okay if you ultimately decide that this is not your best path forward. Also, know that there are many ways to support children in foster care short of becoming a foster parent — like serving as a mentor or donating to an organization.

4. What Is Foster Care Like From the Child's Perspective?

It’s important to understand how children in foster care think and feel. They have had their lives disrupted. Many have experienced significant trauma — and entering into the foster care system, and being removed from their families, is a traumatic experience in itself. So, it’s natural that they may be suspicious of new adults entering their lives.

When heading to a foster home, a child may be thinking, “How long will I stay here?” or “Will I have to change schools?” Some may be wondering, “Will my birth parents think I don’t love them?” or “Will I be abused again?” or “Will I ever see my siblings again?” They may be understandably angry, sad and feel lonely and isolated.

A significant part of the process to become a foster dad is training and learning how best to support a child emotionally. This starts with listening. And no one is better equipped to talk about the impact of foster care on children than the children who have been there. Foster Club, an organization dedicated to helping young people to realize their personal potential, (both in and from foster care,) publishes a blog called Youth Perspective. Read about their experiences and their hopes for the future here.

5. Can Gay Men Legally Be Foster Dads in the United States?

Let’s first get this question out of the way: Can LGBTQ people legally become foster parents in the United States? Many people are surprised to learn that the answer in every state in the country is unequivocally: YES!

This is thanks to the Supreme Court ruling, on June 26, 2015, which struck down all bans on same-sex marriage in the country. This ruling, in turn, paved the way for gay foster care and adoption to become legal across the country. On March 31, 2016, a Mississippi federal judge ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex couples was unconstitutional, making Mississippi the last state to have such a law overturned. Since then, gay foster care and adoption has been legal in all 50 states and Washington, DC.

It’s not always that simple…

Still, many states have started passing bills that allow tax-funded child welfare agencies to legally discriminate against prospective LGBTQ parents on the basis of religious objections. (Some others have passed pro-LGBTQ bills forbidding this.) These laws also often target single people and have even been used to target people of different faiths. For this reason, it is important to know the foster care laws in your state.

But it bears repeating — though certain agencies may discriminate against LGBTQ people, it is still legal for queer people, in all 50 states, to serve as a foster parent and adopt. You will just need to make sure to find an LGBTQ-affirming adoption agency or professional. Every state should have at least one inclusive agency available for you to work with.

6. What is a Home Study?

A home study is a required step for any family wanting to adopt any child. It is used for private and public adoptions, and for foster care, stepparent adoptions, kinship adoptions (when grandparents or other family members are raising a child), and second-parent adoptions following a surrogate birth or sperm donation. 

The name ‘Home Study’ is misleading — this process is about much more than your home. It generally lasts anywhere from 3 to 6 months, and will involve everything from background checks and interviews with the members of your household, to examinations of your physical and financial health, education and training where needed, and much more.

It is also a vital tool in preparing your growing family for the questions and realities ahead: race, identity, belonging, grief, curiosity about birth family, answering nosy questions from strangers and teaching your child how to respond to racial bias are some of the common themes addressed during this process.

It may sound overwhelming, but the process is meant to help build your capacity to be the best, and most prepared, adoptive parent you can possibly be.

For more information on how to prepare for the Home Study please enroll in The GWK Academy.  The GWK Academy will help you to know who will be conducting the home study, what they will be looking for, what is expected of you and what could possibly disqualify you.

7. What is the process for working with Foster Care?

There are several steps involved in becoming a foster parent. Some are more extensive and detailed than others. Although the foster system is managed differently state-to-state, the overall process is similar no matter where you live.

The steps include: choosing an agency, attending orientation and information sessions, completing your applications, attending training sessions, completing the interview process and  home study, receiving approval and waiting for a child, and finally welcoming a child into your home!

Once these steps are completed, congratulations you’re a foster dad! Whether you care for a child for one day or one year, and whether that child returns to his birth family or becomes available for adoption, you are making a positive difference in his/her life.

When you’re ready to get serious about fostering, it’s time to enroll in GWK Academy. This 90-day program will provide you with  step-by-step guidance, experts, and the resources needed to get started.

8. What Different Kinds of Foster Parents Are There?

Whether you provide care for a child for a few hours or a year or longer, the process to become approved (sometimes called “licensed”) and the ongoing training requirements are the same.

That said, there are several different types of ways to be a foster parent:

Emergency Care

Some foster families provide short-term, emergency shelter for children until a relative or other foster placement can be found. Because children can be removed from their homes at any time and on any day, sometimes emergency care is needed while the child welfare professional seeks out a suitable option. Typically, foster families that provide emergency care may have a child for just a few days. It’s a short-term, finite commitment.

Respite Care

Respite caregivers provide short-term care for a child living with another foster family. It could be evening or weekend care for a family who needs time to relax and recharge from providing ongoing care, or it could be for a week or longer when a foster family may need to travel out of state for a funeral or family emergency. Respite care and emergency care are great ways to see if becoming a foster parent is the right choice for you.

Kinship Care

When a family member or other non-related familiar caregiver, for example, a teacher or coach or scout leader, provides a safe home for a child until he/she can safely return home to another more permanent option, it is known as kinship care. Someone the child knows and trusts is preferred.

Traditional Foster Care

Traditional foster parents provide care and support for a child until a permanent solution is implemented. This could mean that the child returns to his/her family of origin or it could mean becoming available for adoption. Foster parents are committed to the wellbeing of the child and to partnering with child welfare professionals and the child’s birth family for the best possible outcome.

Myths About Foster Care

Thanks to TV shows, movies and rare but shocking stories that find their way to mainstream media, there are several common myths about foster parents and the children in their care. Most of the preconceived notions and stereotypes about the foster care system are quite simply not true.

Myth #1

Children in foster care are juvenile delinquents or have severe behavioral issues. Nothing could be further from the truth! The children in foster care have been placed there because of unsafe living conditions. The reasons are varied. There may have been violence in the home, or substance abuse. Perhaps a parent’s child is incarcerated and there are no family or friends available to care for the child. Sometimes the death of a parent leaves a child without a home, and sometimes a child is abandoned. Often, the child’s family is trying to do their best but doesn’t have the tools or the support they need to adequately care for their children.

Myth #2

Only heterosexual, married couples can adopt from foster care. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption addresses this one best. “Families who adopt are as unique and diverse as the children in their care, and children in foster care do not need to wait for some specific notion of family.” There are all kinds of loving families. In fact, same-sex couples are four times more likely to adopt a child than opposite-sex couples. And nearly a third of adoptive children live in single-parent homes. The bottom line is that children in foster care need adults who will commit to caring for them, to understanding the trauma they have experienced and to supporting them.

Myth #3

Some states prevent same-sex couples from adopting. This one does have roots in reality. It is true that each state creates its own laws regarding foster care and adoption, and it’s also true that some states continue to permit discrimination by child welfare agencies that do not receive federal funding. However, today same-sex couples can become foster parents and can adopt children in every state. It may be more challenging to find a welcoming agency in certain areas, but it is possible.

Myth #4

I’m too old to foster or adopt a child. There are millions of children being raised by grandparents across the U.S. There’s also no perfect age to become a parent. According to the Dave Thomas Foundation, nearly 25% of adopted children live with a parent aged 55 or older! It bears repeating that “there is no specific notion of family.” Children of all ages are being raised by dads of all ages. What’s important is your willingness and commitment to providing care for a child who needs it.

Myth #5

Medical issues prevent me from fostering or adopting a child. Neither illness nor past addiction necessarily disqualifies prospective dads from fostering or adopting a child. This includes HIV and cancer. What is important is that your illness is being managed appropriately and that you can provide resources and a stable home for a child. Some agencies may require a substantial period of sobriety when there is a history of substance abuse, or that life-threatening illnesses such as cancer have been in remission for a certain period of time. The intention is not discriminatory, but rather a way to ensure that you will be prepared to parent a child who may require a significant amount of your energy and attention. The best interest of the child always comes before that of the foster parent. But many people successfully foster and adopt children despite chronic health conditions.

Myth #6

It’s expensive to foster a child. Actually, the opposite is true. Compared to other paths to fatherhood including private adoption and surrogacy, foster care is very inexpensive. The average cost to become a foster parent ranges from $0 – $1,500. Financial support is usually available to help care for a foster child and in fact can continue post-adoption by way of federal and state tax credits, employer benefits, assistance with college expenses for older youth and more.  You do not need to be wealthy to foster or adopt a child. You don’t even need to own your own home!

Myth #7

Biological parents can later “reclaim” their children. This is actually a pretty common misconception. But it’s just not true. Once a child’s birth parents have had their rights terminated, they cannot regain custody. Period. Adoption is permanent and adoptive parents enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as parents whose children are born to them. Open adoptions of children in foster care are becoming more common. This means that the adopted child maintains some level of contact with his/her birth parents. There is a wide range of how open adoptions are interpreted. It could be a birthday card and annual photo, or it could be regular visits and Sunday dinners. What it looks like is a negotiation between the adoptive parents and the birth parents. But regardless, biological parents cannot “reclaim” their children once they have been adopted.

Other FAQs

What is gay surrogacy?

Surrogacy allows gay men to have a biological connection to their child. The most common version of gay male surrogacy involves the intended dad or dad couple working with the egg of one woman to create an embryo, which another woman (called the "surrogate" or "gestational carrier") then carries to term.

What are gay surrogacy options?

Gay surrogacy options in the U.S.A. are either Gestational or Traditional. Commercial surrogacy involves paying the surrogate: altruistic surrogacy does not.

  • Gestational Surrogacy: In a gestational surrogacy arrangement, you will work with two women to create your family. The first woman will supply the eggs, which will be made into a fertilized egg, and the second woman (the surrogate) will carry the fertilized embryo to term. This means the surrogate will not be genetically related to the resulting child. This is the most common form of surrogacy practiced in the United States. 

  • Traditional Surrogacy: In this type of an arrangement, you will work with a surrogate who uses her own eggs to complete your gay surrogacy jounrey. This means she will be genetically related to the resulting child. This form of surrogacy is not practiced as often, and is illegal in some states.  

  • Commercial Surrogacy: In commercial surrogacy, a surrogate is paid by the intended parents for carrying and delivering a child for them. Commercial surrogacy is legal in most, but not all, states.

  • Altruistic Surrogacy: In altruistic surrogacy, a carrier, typically a friend or family member of the intended parent, will agree to carry a child for you for free. Altruistic surrogacy is legal in every state in the United States, and in many countries abroad.
How does gay surrogacy work?

Gay surrogacy will look a little bit different for everyone, but here are the steps you can expect in most gay male surrogacy journeys

  • Step 1: Hire Professionals: First, you will find and hire your LGBTQ competent surrogacy professionals. 

  • Step 2: Decide Whos Sperm to Use: For a gay couple surrogacy process, you will then need yo decide on whose sperm to use. You will then need to conduct some tests on the sperm to make sure it is viable.

  • Step 3: Choose an Egg Donor and Create Embryos: Next you will select your egg donor, and your IVF clinic will help you create embryos. 

  • Step 4: Match with a Surrogate: Now it’ll be time to match with a surrogate — your surrogacy agency will help you find and match with a surrogate who will be a great fit for your gay surrogacy journey. 

  • Step 5: Embryo Transfer: Once your surrogate is screened and cleared, you will then transfer your embryos to your surrogate’s uterus through IVF. 

  • Step 6: Pregnancy and Birth: Lastly comes your surrogate’s pregnancy — and the birth of your baby!
What is the difference between a gestational carrier vs surrogate?

The difference between a surrogate and a gestational carrier is that the surrogate’s eggs are used in the creation of the baby, so she is biologically connected to the baby. Most gay surrogacy journeys instead involve a gestational carrier, who carries the embryo created by fertilizing the egg donated by another woman in a lab, and then implanting it in the carrier to carry to term.

How do I find the best surrogacy agencies for a gay surrogacy journey?

It’s important to work with a surrogacy agency with a long track record of success and passion for helping gay, bi and trans men become dads through surrogacy. Your surrogacy agency will help you with: matching with a surrogate; securing needed insurance for your surrogate and egg donor; legal services; mental health services; and escrow management. 

To find an agency that will be the best fit for your gay surrogacy journey, be prepared to ask some questions during your intake process. Ask the agency what their success rate is like, and how long they have been in business. You will also want to ask how many gay surrogacy journeys they have helped complete — and ask to speak to previous LGBTQ clients. You will also want to know about their cost structure and price. For a list of GWK-vetted and approved surrogacy agencies, click here.

How do I find the best IVF clinics for a gay male surrogacy journey?

It’s important to work with an IVF clinic with a long track record of success and passion for helping gay, bi and trans men become dads through surrogacy. What is an IVF clinic used for? Your fertility clinic will help you: analyze your sperm; conduct recessive gene testing; conduct medical screenings of your surrogate and egg donor; create and transfer your embryos; and store any remaining embryos for future use. 

To find a fertility clinic that will be the best fit for your surrogacy journey, be prepared to ask some questions during your intake process. Ask the doctor / clinic what their success rate is like, and how long they have been in business. You will also want to ask how many gay surrogacy journeys they have helped complete — and ask to speak to previous LGBTQ clients. You will also want to know about their cost structure and price. 

Finally, you can and should also visit the SART website, the primary organization of professionals dedicated to the practice of IVF, or assisted reproductive technology (ART).

How expensive is surrogacy for gay parents?

Surrogacy for gay parents average between $135,000 to $200,000 or more. There are four main areas that cover the costs of a gay surrogacy journey::

  • Agency fees: $35,000 - $55,000: The agency fees refer to the professional costs associated with the coordination of your journey, legal work, social work screening, and the surrogate matching process. This includes all the associated services of the journey itself. Reputable agencies will ensure these costs are transparent and accessible — including a timeline of when certain expenses are expected to be paid.

  • IVF clinic: $25,000 - $50,000: The main fees incurred at your fertility clinic will be those associated with screening your egg donor, surrogate, and you — as well as those incurred during the embryo creation and transfer processes. There is a lot of variability in costs that can occur, however, depending on your unique set of circumstances. 

  • Gestational carrier and egg donor: $60,000 to $80,000: These costs include the compensation to gestational carriers and egg donors, any needed travel costs, and any contingency fees that might arise — like bedrest or a c-section. Additional costs come from legal expenses, which are charged separately from the agency fee, and range from $8,000-$10,000 if all goes well. You may also need to cover costs associated with travel and accommodations for your surrogate and egg donor. 

  • Insurance: $15,000 to $30,000: You will also need to make sure both your surrogate and egg donor have insurance. Sometimes, a surrogate’s own insurance policy will cover her pregnancy, but increasingly they won’t. You will also need to pay for insurance for egg donors, who aren’t allowed to use their own insurance for any part of the egg donation process. International parents may have additional insurance costs to consider, because their baby will often not be covered under their own home insurance plan. That means they will have to buy insurance for their baby or babies.