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Adoptive Parents and Their Children: Does Sexual Orientation Matter? Charlotte J. Patterson Department of Psychology Studies in Women & Gender Program.

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Presentation on theme: "Adoptive Parents and Their Children: Does Sexual Orientation Matter? Charlotte J. Patterson Department of Psychology Studies in Women & Gender Program."— Presentation transcript:

1 Adoptive Parents and Their Children: Does Sexual Orientation Matter? Charlotte J. Patterson Department of Psychology Studies in Women & Gender Program University of Virginia 2 nd European Conference on LGBT Families April 2012

2 Overview Lesbian/gay adoption – Many children need homes – Many lesbian/gay adults want to adopt – Should sexual orientation of prospective parents enter into placement decisions? – Little research What is life like for children and parents in lesbian/gay parent adoptive families?

3 Lesbian, gay and heterosexual couples Each with an adopted child, years old Systematic sampling frame – 5 adoption agencies – Families living in 12 states in USA Information from multiple sources Adoptive Families Study Rachel H. Farr, Stephen L. Forssell & Charlotte J. Patterson University of Virginia Farr, R. H., Forssell, S. L., & Patterson, C. J. (2010). Parenting and child development in adoptive families: Does parental sexual orientation matter? Applied Developmental Science, 14,

4 106 Families 56 same-sex couples (27 lesbian, 29 gay) 50 heterosexual couples Domestic adoptions Couples are all legally recognized parents Groups well matched Adoptive Families Study: Sample Farr, R. H., Forssell, S. L., & Patterson, C. J. (2010). Parenting and child development in adoptive families: Does parental sexual orientation matter? Applied Developmental Science, 14,

5 Parents – 81% white – 42 years old – Most work full time – Well educated – High incomes Children – 42% white – 3 years old – Adopted at birth Adoptive Families Study: Sample

6 Adoptive Families Study: Topics More common among same-sex couples – 54% of lesbian/gay couples – 30% of heterosexual couples Both types of families are otherwise demographically similar Both transracial and same-race adoptees show positive adjustment Transracial Adoption Farr & Patterson (2009). Transracial adoption by lesbian, gay, and heterosexual couples… Adoption Quarterly, 12, 187 – 204.

7 Parent Adjustment -Parent discipline techniques -Arnold, O’Leary, Wolff & Acker, Standardized parent report scale -Parenting Scale Adoptive Families Study: Topics

8 Average Discipline Score Dysfunctional Functional N = 212 parents Parent Discipline Techniques

9 Average Discipline Score Dysfunctional Functional N = 212 parents  Parents in all three types of families report using positive discipline techniques. Parent Discipline Techniques

10 Parental adjustment -Parent discipline techniques -Parenting stress -Abidin, Standardized parent report -Parenting Stress Index Adoptive Families Study: Topics

11 Parenting Stress Total Stress Score N = 212 Parents Low stress High stress

12 Parenting Stress Total Stress Score N = 212 Parents Low stress High stress  Parents in all three types of families report relatively low parenting stress.

13 Parent adjustment Child development - Child Behavior Problems Achenbach & Rescorla, 2000 Parent report: Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) Teacher report: Teacher Report Form (TRF) Adoptive Families Study: Topics Farr, R. H., Forssell, S. L., & Patterson, C. J. (2010). Parenting and child development in adoptive families: Does parental sexual orientation matter? Applied Developmental Science, 14,

14 Child Behavior Problems T score N = 106 children None Many Farr, R. H.,Forssell, S. L., & Patterson, C. J. (2010). Parenting and child development in adoptive families: Does parental sexual orientation matter? Applied Developmental Science, 14,

15 Child Behavior Problems T score N = 106 children None Many  Children of lesbian/gay parents have no more behavior problems than others Farr, R. H., Forssell, S. L., & Patterson, C. J. (2010). Parenting and child development in adoptive families: Does parental sexual orientation matter? Applied Developmental Science, 14,

16 Child development -Child behavior problems -Gender role behavior -Golombok & Rust, Standardized parent report -Preschoolers Activities Inventory (PSAI) Adoptive Families Study: Topics Farr, R. H.,Forssell, S. L., & Patterson, C. J. (2010). Parenting and child development in adoptive families: Does parental sexual orientation matter? Applied Developmental Science, 14,

17 Age-adjusted score N = 106 children Gender Role Behavior Farr, R. H., Forssell, S. L., & Patterson, C. J. (2010). Parenting and child development in adoptive families: Does parental sexual orientation matter? Applied Developmental Science, 14,

18 Age-adjusted score N = 106 children  Gender role behavior was similar among children in all three family groups Gender Role Behavior Farr, R. H.l, Forssell, S. L., & Patterson, C. J. (2010). Parenting and child development in adoptive families: Does parental sexual orientation matter? Applied Developmental Science, 14,

19 Parental adjustment Child development Couple adjustment -Relationship satisfaction Spanier Dyadic Adjustment Scale Self-report by couples Adoptive Families Study: Topics

20 Couples’ Overall Relationship Quality Total Satisfaction N = 106 Couples Very satisfied  All couple types report strong relationship satisfaction.

21 Parental adjustment Child development Couple adjustment -Relationship satisfaction -Division of labor -Cowan & Cowan, Who Does What? -Couples report on their division of labor -Focus here on childcare Adoptive Families Study: Topics

22 Couples’ Division of Labor - Childcare A = Mom B = Dad Average Childcare Labor “I do it ALL” “My partner does it ALL” N = 106 Couples  Same-sex couples share, but other-sex couples show specialized pattern.

23 Adoption Study: Interim Summary Gay/lesbian/heterosexual parents and their adoptive children similar in many ways One important difference: Division of labor – Division of labor studied via parental reports – What do the findings mean? – Role of observational data Observational data collected here – Blanket and standard sets of toys – Two parents play with their child – Video records

24 Couples’ Participation in Parent/Child Interactions  Lesbian/gay couples participated equally, but heterosexual couples did not. Participation *

25 What Did Observational Data Reveal? Results confirm self-reports about division of labor – Lesbian & gay couples participate equally – they “shared” – Heterosexual couples did not – they “specialized” – Heterosexual mothers are more involved than fathers

26 What Did Observational Data Reveal? Results confirm self-reports about division of labor – Lesbian & gay couples participate equally – they “shared” – Heterosexual couples did not – they “specialized” – Heterosexual mothers are more involved than fathers Equality of participation not related to child adjustment

27 What Did Observational Data Reveal? Results confirm self-reports about division of labor Equality of participation not related to child adjustment Some aspects of family interactions were related to child adjustment – Well adjusted children had involved parents who did not compete – True for all family types To summarize: At this age, children don’t care if parents share or specialize; but they flourish best when there is harmony

28 Lesbian and gay couples’ parenting styles differ from those of heterosexual couples, but the differences do not affect child development Parental sexual orientation irrelevant to overall adjustment of adopted children However, many differences among adoptive families emerge in observed interactions, and these are related to children’s behavior We are beginning to explore and even understand the meaning of individual differences among these families However, much work remains Adoptive Families Study: Conclusions

29 Participating agencies and families Rachel H. Farr, Ph.D., & Stephen L. Forssell, Ph.D., Co-Investigators on Adoptive Families Study Support from Lesbian Health Fund and from the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law Research Assistants at UVA: Jacqueline Wheeler Kathleen Doss Brittany Sheen Katherine Jetton Dylan Comstock Tim Tuan Thank you: Research Assistants at GWU: Janine Beha Claudia Amendola Charlotte Blutstein Thomas Lotito Mike Kohn Scott Kraiterman Carly Roberts Lindsay Walter-Cox

30 Contact Information Charlotte J. Patterson Department of Psychology P. O. Box University of Virginia Charlottesville VA USA (434)


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