Family Equality Council, the national organization working to ensure full social and legal equality for the approximately 1 million lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) parents raising more than 2 million children across the U.S. by providing direct support, educating the American public, and securing inclusion in legislation, policies, and practices impacting families, would like to thank the Virginia Department of Social Services for providing the opportunity to comment on the proposed standards for licensed private child-placing agencies.
We are writing in full support of the proposed standards, specifically the provisions requiring a licensed child-placement agency to prohibit discrimination on the bases of race, color, gender, national origin, age, religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation, disability, and family status. These nondiscrimination policies are crucial to ensure that all Virginia’s foster children are placed in permanent loving homes, without delay or denial because of their potential parents’ religion, political beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, or family status.
Virginia has the second lowest placement rate in the country for foster children with a goal of finding a permanent adoptive home: nearly half the national average. In 2010, 653 foster children were adopted through the public system, but at the end of the year, 1,480 more children were left waiting for placements. Virginia also has the distinction of having the highest rate of youth who age out of the foster care system without ever finding a permanent home. Finally, Virginia has one of the longest average wait times between termination of a child’s parental rights and the finalization of adoption papers: over 20 months. These low placement rates and long wait times are not because there are not enough foster care agencies servicing Virginia’s youth; there are simply not enough parents stepping forward to adopt or foster Virginia’s youth.
Continuing to permit discrimination in foster and adoptive services will only further disadvantage Virginia’s foster youth. In order to ensure the most positive outcomes for all youth, Virginia must actively recruit as many families as possible, broadening the pool of qualified parents. Comprehensive recruitment must be backed by nondiscrimination policies that make sure all licensed adoption agencies are looking at the best interest of the child when considering a foster or adoption placement. Adoption agencies, even those with religious affiliations, have one overriding obligation and that is to act in the best interests of each individual child. All adoption agencies must judge the quality of prospective parents based solely on their character, their capabilities as a parent, and their capacity to provide a loving home.
Every established, professional child welfare organization universally supports the ability of qualified LGBT individuals to foster and adopt. Among these organizations are the American Psychological Association, Child Welfare League of America, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Association of Social Workers, North American Council on Adoptable Children, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and countless others. More than 30 years of scientific research overwhelmingly confirms that children raised by gay and lesbian parents have the same advantages and same expectations for health, social, and psychological adjustment, and development as children whose parents are heterosexual.
There are already 2 million children across the country being raised by 1 million same-sex couples who pay taxes, send their kids to school, worship and share the same American values as their neighbors. According to the Williams Institute, a think tank based in the University of California, Los Angeles, there are two million more gay and lesbian parents who would choose to adopt from the foster care system if laws and policies permitted them. In order to ensure that Virginia finds the best, most qualified parents regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or religion, the Board of Social Services must approve the proposed regulations for licensed adoption agencies.
The Board of Social Services not only has the authority to make these changes, but it has an affirmative obligation to adopt the proposed nondiscrimination language. Virginia has conferred upon the Commissioner of Social Services the supervision of the administration of the Department of Social Services, including seeing “that all laws pertaining to the Department are carried out to their true intent and spirit.” The Board has the authority to adopt regulations needed to carry out the purpose of the Department of Social Security. In addition, the Board has the specific authority to adopt regulations for child welfare agencies “designed to ensure that such activities, services and facilities are conducive to the welfare of the children under the custody or control of such persons or agencies.” Such regulation should include “reasonable standards for the activities, services and facilities to be employed” by these agencies. In these capacities, the Commission and the Board not only have the clear authority to regulate, as they have in the past, the licensing of child placement agencies, but they also have the affirmative obligation to ensure that licensed child welfare agencies throughout the State are adhering to established best practices and are acting in the best interests of Virginia’s children in their care.
 Adoption, Virginia Performs: Measuring What matters to Virginians (September 15, 2011), available at http://vaperforms.virginia.gov/indicators/healthfamily/adoption.php (“Still, despite the growth in the number of adoptions, in 2010 Virginia had the second lowest rate of public agency adoption in the nation (35.2 adopted per 100,000 children). . . . The national average was 71.3.”)
 Adoptions of Children with Public Child Welfare Agency Involvement by State FY 2002 - FY 2010, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , Administration for Children and Families , Administration on Children, Youth and Families , Children's Bureau (June 2011), available at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/adoptchild10.pdf
 Children in Public Foster Care on September 30th of Each Year who are Waiting to be Adopted FY 2002 - FY 2010, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau (June 2011), available at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/waiting2010.pdf
 Foster Care, Virginia Performs: Measuring What matters to Virginians (June 14, 2011), available at http://vaperforms.virginia.gov/indicators/healthfamily/fosterCare.php (“While Virginia has a very low rate of children in foster care, it ranks first among the states in the percent of youth (32 percent) who age out of foster care.”)
 Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-203 (2011).
 Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-217 (2011).
 Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1734 (2011).