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
T Correspon Houston, TX
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: firstname.lastname@example.org (P. Leung).
P. Leung et al. / Children and Youth Services Review 27 (2005) 1031–10441032
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).