Social work with LGBT adopters & carers in the UK

Hafford-Letchfield, T. and Dunk, P. (2011) Sexual Identities And Sexuality In Social Work: Research And Reflections From Women In The Field, London, Ashgate [Especially a chapter by C. Cocker, Sexuality Before Ability? The Assessment of Lesbians as Adopters].

Abstract: Sexuality and sexual identity have been relatively marginalized areas in both social work education and practice. However, changes in policy and legislation in the UK and other countries over the past decade have brought discussions of sexuality into the mainstream public service agenda. In social work and social care, gay and lesbian citizenship rights have been explicitly recognised. In the fields of adoption and fostering new regulations and guidance have helped improve and develop practice around assessment and intervention. It remains the case, however, that sex is often perceived as a problem area within social work and social care, discussed only in relation to sexually diverse communities or in the realm of dysfunction or pathology. This collection aims to generate a more proactive and more challenging discussion of sexuality and sexual identity in social work. Its starting point is that sexuality is an essential aspect of individual identity, that users must be able to express their sexuality, and that it is essential for social workers to be able to respond and discuss sexual issues appropriately. The contributions are informed by feminist research, considering, in particular, the experiences of women working in and using social care services since the 1990s. In addition to a consideration of the wider policy, legislative and service providers’ perspectives, the book includes contributions from service users themselves, offering a comprehensive and balanced account of this important field, which aims to inform both theory and practice.

Brown H. C. and Cocker C. (2011) Social Work with Lesbians and Gay Men, London, Sage.

Abstract: Working with lesbians and gay men is a largely neglected area of social work practice. This book provides social workers and other professionals with an overview of a number of key challenges and concerns that play a significant part in the lives of lesbians and gay men. Despite positive changes in legislation, social work can still fail to meet the needs of lesbians and gay men, and remains a marginalised area in practice, research and teaching. This book promotes an understanding of these issues and proposes ideas for social work practice that are inclusive of lesbians and gay men in assessment and the provision of services.

Cocker, C., and Brown, H.C. (2010) Sex, Sexuality and Relationships: Developing Confidence and Discernment when Assessing Lesbian and Gay Prospective Adopters, Adoption and Fostering 34(1): 20-32.

Abstract: In the UK, the last 15 years have seen a profound change in the way that lesbians and gay men have been socially and politically located and acknowledged. This is evidenced by recent legislative changes that have given protection to lesbians and gay men and placed a duty on public bodies to provide equitable services. For a number of years lesbians and gay men have been specifically targeted, recruited and utilised as adopters of children in public care. With these changes has come the realisation that a number of complexities in adoption practice have been insufficiently addressed. Brown and Cocker (2008) have argued that in the assessment of prospective lesbian and gay adopters, struggling with complexities is crucial for safe and effective assessment of suitability to be realised. This appreciation of the complexity of practice has been articulated in the Independent Inquiry into the Circumstances of Child Sexual Abuse by Two Foster Carers in Wakefield (Parrott et al, 2007). The report noted that the ‘homosexuality’ of the foster carers became the primary focus of social work anxiety. This happened at the expense of holistic considerations of both the carers’ potential and their actual foster care practice. Although these findings relate to foster care, they are transferable to the adoption field. The authors of the Inquiry emphasised the importance of ‘discrimination’ in practice, arguing that ‘discrimination’ was essential for discerning and analytical assessment, support and supervision. This article by Christine Cocker and Helen Cosis Brown offers a conceptual framework as well as practice tools to facilitate such discriminatory, effective, discerning and comprehensive assessments of lesbian and gay prospective adopters. The paramountcy of the child’s welfare has to remain central to developments in adoption practice. This article maintains this centrality.

Cocker, C., and Hafford Letchfield, T. (2010) Critical Commentary: Out and Proud? Social Work’s relationship with lesbians and gay men, British Journal of Social Work 40(6): 1996-2008.

Abstract: Major changes in the UK legislative framework to promote the rights of lesbians and gay men have challenged and challenge long-standing heteronormative and heterosexist frames of reference in both social work practice and professional education and the way these are organised. At the same time, government policy within ‘transformation’ and ‘integrated’ agendas and recent reviews of the role of social work provide many opportunities for social work to respond in new and different ways to the proposed changes. This Critical Commentary looks at the implications for increased visibility of sexuality within social work and the complexity of managing identities. We will examine how these are debated within the current social, political and legislative environment.

Brown, H.C., and Cocker, C. (2008) Lesbian and gay fostering and adoption: out of the closet into the mainstream? Adoption and Fostering 32(4): 19-30.

Abstract: Recent public debates have discussed lesbians and gay men caring for children as a novel phenomenon, but such arrangements are not new. Helen Cosis Brown and Christine Cocker track debates concerning lesbian and gay families and examine the relationship between policy and practice that is evidence based and ideologically driven. They outline the complexities of adoption and fostering practice within its political and social context and argue that the paramountcy of the child’s welfare is the lynch-pin to understanding the issues involved with the placement of children with lesbian and gay carers. The emphasis, in examining the detail of practice, is on recruitment, assessment, matching and support.

Brown, H.C. (2008) Social Work and Sexuality, Working with Lesbians and Gay Men: What Remains the Same and What is Different? Practice: Social Work in Action 20(4), 265-275.

Abstract: This paper looks at changes in social work practice with lesbians and gay men over the last fifteen years and specifically since the author’s publication which addressed social work with lesbians and gay men (Brown, 1998b). The paper considers what the implications of some of those changes are for social work and is what would be described as ‘a discussion paper’ drawing on the existing literature and documents in the public domain and the author’s own practice experience. The demise of the emphasis placed on relationship-based work, the author argues, affects all service users and carers including lesbians and gay men. To reclaim relationship-based social work would also be reclaiming the ‘radical’; something that has got lost. To work effectively with lesbians and gay men requires this radical approach as it requires the ability to work with contradictions, to use the law as leverage to meet people’s needs to apply knowledge effectively and to utilise competently communication skills in relationship based work.

Dugmore, P., and Cocker, C. (2008) Legal, Social and Attitudinal Changes: An Exploration of Lesbian and Gay Issues in a Training Programme for Social Workers in Fostering and Adoption. Social Work Education 27(2): 159-168.

Abstract: Within a widely evolving political, social and legal climate, significant changes have taken place in the last 10 years in relation to lesbians and gay men. This has presented social workers and social work teams with new challenges in ensuring their practice adheres to recent legislation, government policy and guidance. In order to address these issues a local authority approached the authors to commission a training programme to increase awareness of lesbian and gay issues in a fostering and adoption context for social work practitioners and managers. This paper presents an outline of this one-day training programme and considers how effective one-day training courses can be in bringing about changes in attitudes and skills in relation to this complex area of practice.

Hicks, S. (2008) Thinking through sexuality, Journal of Social Work 8(1), 65-82

Abstract: This article is a discussion piece on the idea of `sexuality’ within social work. The author discusses dominant models of sexuality — including those within anti-discriminatory practice theory — before going on to raise a number of problems with this perspective. The article draws upon queer, feminist and Foucaultian theories to suggest less restrictive ways of thinking through sexuality and social work. Findings: Social work has a tendency to define `sexuality’ as an essential identity with a fixed set of characteristics and social welfare `needs’. This article argues for a reflexive account of sexuality within social work, and for the investigation of the production and use of sexuality categories within everyday professional settings. Applications : The author discusses the assessment of sexuality in cases of foster care or adoption applications by lesbians or gay men in order to highlight the practical application of these ideas. The article discusses why new ways of thinking through sexuality may be productive for social work.

Hicks, S. with Greaves, D. (2007) Practice Guidance on Assessing Gay and Lesbian Foster Care and Adoption Applicants, Manchester: Manchester City Council.

Hicks, S. (2006) Geneology’s Desire: Practices of Kinship Amongst Lesbian and Gay Foster-Carers and Adopters, British Journal of Social Work 36: 761-776.

Clarke, V. and Kitzinger, C. (2005) “We’re not Living on planet Lesbian”: Constructions of Male Role Models in Debates about Lesbian Families, Sexualities 8(2): 137-152.

Abstract: The notion that children (especially boys) need male role models has been used in the past to attack lesbian parents in custody cases, and more recently in debates about donor insemination, adoption and fostering. We are interested in how lesbian parents and their supporters respond to arguments about the necessity of male role models. We analyse data from popular television talk shows and television documentaries using a discursive approach and identify common strategies used by lesbian parents to deal with the argument that their children are ‘missing out’ because of a deficit in their family structure. We then consider the responses of opponents of lesbian parenting to these strategies. What these responses reveal is that lesbian parents and their opponents construct and work with very different definitions of male role models. We show that the contributions both of opponents of lesbian parenting and of lesbian parents themselves to media debates attend to and sustain traditional understandings of gender and sexual development.

Mallon, G., and Betts, B. (2005) Recruiting, Assessing and Supporting Lesbian and Gay Carers and Adopters, London: BAAF.

Hicks, S. (2005) Queer genealogies: tales of conformity and rebellion amongst lesbian and gay foster carers and adopters, Qualitative Social Work 4(3), 293–308

Abstract: This article analyses claims about ‘family’ status made within narratives by and about lesbian and gay foster carers and adopters. The author asks how such claims work in order to challenge the view that lesbian and gay families are inherently conservative or radical. Instead this article analyses the uses to which conformity or rebellion claims are put, demonstrating that they are attempts to challenge homo-phobic practices, to assert the legitimacy of gay parenting, or to ask questions about standard kinship models. For social work, there is a need to recognize and work with these queer genealogies, and to develop reflexivity about the ways that ‘sexuality’ is theorized in and through practice.

Hicks, S. (2000) “Good lesbian, bad lesbian . . .”: regulating heterosexuality in fostering and adoption assessments. Child & Family Social Work  5(2), 157–68.

Abstract: The paper examines the assessment of lesbians who apply to foster or adopt, using data generated from 30 interviews with local authority social workers. Using feminist and queer theories, the author suggests that lesbian applicants pose a challenge to the discourse of ‘compulsory gender and heterosexuality’ which structures fostering and adoption work. It is argued that this discourse relies upon a series of assumptions about the automatic fitness of heterosexual applicants, especially concerning the idea of gender and sexuality role models needed for children’s development. Further, this ‘heteronormative’ discourse relies upon the continuing need to make ‘other’ the categories ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’. The article considers how ‘the lesbian’ is constructed as a ‘threat’, as ‘militant’, or as ‘automatically safe’ in assessments, and makes the point that social work is productive of versions of the lesbian subject. The author argues that only certain versions are likely to be approved to foster or adopt, particularly that which is termed ‘the good lesbian’.

Mooney-Somers, J. and Golombok, S. (2000) Children of Lesbian mothers: From the 1970s to the new millennium, Sexual and Relationship Therapy 15(2): 121-126.

Abstract: In both the popular and academic media, lesbian and gay parenting is the issue of the moment. Recent examples include the case of two gay men fathering twins with a surrogate mother in the US; the results of a study of gay fathers by Gill Dunne at the London School of Economics (Guardian, 12 January, 2000); and comments from Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, President of the Family Court, on the appropriateness of lesbian women and gay men as adoptive or foster parents (Guardian, 16 October, 1999). These examples show that current debates focus on gay fathers, assisted reproduction and fostering/adoption. Does this mean that the concerns first raised in child custody disputes in the 1970s-that children raised in lesbian mother families would be at risk for psychological problems and atypical gender development-have been laid to rest?

New resources to suggest?