A comparison of family functioning in gay/lesbian,

heterosexual and special needs adoptions

Patrick LeungT, Stephen Erich, Heather Kanenberg

University of Houston, United States

Received 25 October 2004; received in revised form 17 December 2004; accepted 20 December 2004

Available online 9 February 2005


The purpose of this study was to identify possible contributing factors to family functioning in

three types of adoptive families: those headed by gays/lesbians, those headed by heterosexuals, and

those involving the adoption of children with special needs. These three adoptive family types were

examined concurrently so that commonalities and differences could be identified and considered for

use in adoption practice. A multiple regression analysis was used to assess the relationship between

the dependent variable (standardized family functioning score) and independent variables (child

behavior scores, special needs adoption, gay/lesbian headed families, age at adoption and at

interview, diagnoses of disabilities, total social support score, number of previous placements,

previous abuse and co-sibling adoption). Results indicated no negative effects for the parenting of

adopted children by gay/lesbian headed families. Higher levels of family functioning were found to

be associated with special needs, younger, and non-disabled child adoptions. Gay/lesbian headed

family adoptions of older children, non-sibling group adoptions, and children with more foster

placements also experienced higher levels of family functioning. Implications include the need to (1)

place a child in an adoptive family as early as possible, (2) ensure strong support networks for

adoptive families of children with disabilities and with those who adopt sibling groups, and (3)

encourage the practice of adoption by gay/lesbian headed families, especially for older children.

D 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Special needs; Gay/lesbian and heterosexual adoption

0190-7409/$ –


T Correspon Houston, TX

E-mail add

Children and Youth Services Review

see front matter D 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


ding author. Graduate School of Social Work, University of Houston, 237 Social Work Building,

77204-4013, United States.

ress: pleung@uh.edu (P. Leung).

P. Leung et al. / Children and Youth Services Review 27 (2005) 1031–10441032

1. Introduction

Family has been conceptualized in a variety of ways. Barker (1995) emphasizes, ba family consists of a primary group whose members assume certain obligations for each

other and generally share common residencesQ (p. 130). The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Family Policy (1999) asserts, b[t]he family is the primary socializing agent as well as the primary economic unit in our cultureQ (p. 1). Since the Industrial Revolution, the conceptualization of family has changed and developed (Cherlin

& Furstenberg, 1994; Furstenberg, 1999; NASW, 1999). In its broadest sense, family is

two or more people who regard themselves as family and who take upon themselves

commitments and responsibilities that are commonly deemed fundamental to family life

(NASW, 1999). A child’s family, and the typical protection, socialization, security and

companionship offered by family members, is essential to the human condition. A family

and its members, whether biological or adoptive, are indispensable in the growth and

development of children. The family unit, no matter how it is defined, serves to foster

children’s view of the external world, their emotional capacities, and their individual

identities (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 1996).


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