Some foster care agencies have long recognised that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (GLBTI) people, coupled or single, can provide loving, stable homes for children requiring short or long term care.
Many same-sex couples and single people (including many who already have biological children) welcome children needing foster care into their families. This can be a very positive experience for everyone involved – something that is demonstrated by the fact that many foster carers themselves grew up in homes that welcomed children needing foster care.
Foster care can include respite (occasional) care, short-term/emergency care and long-term care. Permanent care is generally the preferred option for children and young people requiring long-term care. In these cases the Victorian Government has determined that the child cannot return home, but the biological parent/s have not relinquished them for adoption. Permanent care orders are similar to court parenting orders in that they cease at 18 years; but although permanent care and fostering legally ends at this age, most people have life-long relationships with their foster carers/parents.
Both foster and permanent carers receive a modest fortnightly payment to assist with meeting some of the financial needs of the child. In addition, foster and permanent carers are eligible in most cases to qualify for Centrelink Family Tax Benefit and Child Care Benefit payments.
What if a child being fostered or on a permanent care order becomes available for adoption?
At the time of writing, same-sex couples are not permitted to adopt in Victoria. The Adoption Act does however make provision for ‘individual’ people to adopt ‘only in special circumstances’. The definition of special circumstances has until recently only been granted to single people who wish to adopt a relative, and in one case a lesbian foster carer who sought to adopt a child with extreme ‘special needs’. In August 2010, a Victorian judge ruled in favor of one member of a gay male couple, who along with his partner, had been the long term foster carers of a child. In this case the child’s birth parents relinquished the child, and had no opposition to the carer adopting the child. It is anticipated that this case will set a precedent for one half of a gay or lesbian partnership – or a single gay or lesbian person – to adopt a child who is in their foster or permanent care.
Rainbow Families Council hopes that the Victorian government will act on the recommendations of the Victorian Law Reform Commission enquiry to extend the eligibility definition to include both members of a same sex couple and single people specifically. We also hope they will permit all GLBTI people or single applicants to apply for all forms of adoption – including inter-country, infant, familial – and the adoption of foster or permanent care children.
Gay and lesbian foster carers, permanent carers and kinship carers in Victoria are eligible to join the Gay and Lesbian Carers Support Group, which provides information, telephone support and social opportunities for gay and lesbian carers and their children.
The Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare has information about becoming a foster carer. Call the foster care hotline on 1800 013 088 or visit www.fosterabrighterfuture.com.au.