Foster care by homosexuals: a survey of states and their policies. Members of a gay rights group in Massachusetts camped overnight Wednesday in front of the governor's office, protesting a new state policy on foster care by homosexuals. Gov. Michael S. Dukakis has agreed to meet today with group representatives to explain the policy change. The Massachusetts sit-in illustrates a quandary that other states, too, have not resolved.

State laws are largely silent on the issue of the placement of foster children in the homes of homosexual adults, a Monitor survey of all state child welfare agencies finds. Such an absence of written policy -- either pro or con -- led to the recent controversy over the placement of two foster children in the home of a male homosexual couple in Boston.

Publicity about the case in May caused such community concern that the Massachusetts Department of Social Services removed the children from the home and adopted a regulation against such placements. Legislators there are now considering a state law to prevent foster-care placements with homosexuals.

Even though there are few explicit policies addressing the issue, foster placement with homosexual adults is not unusual in many areas. Typically, these areas are near communities that have endorsed civil rights for homosexuals, according to national child-welfare groups and gay rights groups. Social workers in other states told the Monitor they believe homosexuals have been able to quietly become foster parents, because state agencies may not have quizzed them on their sexual preference.

The most consistent response among social workers who have no specific policy to guide them is that placements are handled on a case-by-case basis. The homosexuality of an applicant is only one of many factors to be considered, they say.

``I'm not even sure what body of thought to refer to as right or wrong,'' says Jacob Sprouse, a board member of the National Foster Parents Association and director of American Foster Care Resources. ``Civil rights would hold that it [homosexuality] shouldn't be used'' to rule out prospective parents, he says. But he adds that ``placement is not a right. . . . The child's right to what's in his best interest is the concern.''

In placing older foster children who identify themselves as gay and who are not wanted in heterosexual homes, some state foster-care agencies seek out homosexual parents, says Emily Gardiner of the Child Welfare League of America, a child-welfare organization based in New York.

Further, some social workers often view homosexuals as a welcome addition to the thin numbers in the foster-parent pool. They say gays are often prepared to take special-needs children, who may not otherwise be placed.

The absence in most states of laws, codes, or regulations addressing the issue of homosexual applicants allows for a wide range of interpretation. The Monitor survey found that only five states now address the issue at all in adoption and foster-care rules or state laws.

New York, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia specifically state that sexual preference won't be the sole basis for denying foster care or adoptive placement.

Florida law, on the other hand, forbids homosexuals from adopting and, by extension, from taking foster placements.

Massachusetts legislators are considering a similar law covering adoption, day care, and foster care; meanwhile, the state Department of Social Services there has written policy excluding ``nontraditional family settings'' for foster placement.

New Hampshire officials say they are likely to adopt a similar policy. And Alaska and Utah say decisively that placement with homosexuals is not a state practice, although they have no written policy.

Besides New York, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia, six other states that have no written policies -- California, Missouri, Oregon, South Carolina, Washington, and Wisconsin -- report that they do make foster placements in homosexuals' households.

Among those state agencies surveyed, officials in this area of public welfare show a distinct inclination not to discriminate on the basis of sexual preference if a homosexual applicant fills all the other qualifications of a parent. Further, aside from the adverse publicity over the Boston case, many state officials report positively on placements that have been made with homosexual parents.

Although homosexuals have been allowed to adopt children in some states, Arizona courts have ruled consistently against adoption by gays on the basis that state law categorizes homosexual conduct to be wrong behavior. But, in general, adoption law is usually more stringent than foster-care regulations, so foster care has been more open to homosexuals.

``Most policymakers have been trying to skirt it and handle it case by case,'' says Mr. Sprouse, whose own organization doesn't have a written policy about it. ``It's a political, religious, and emotionally charged issue, and it simply will not be considered'' in most agencies, he says.

Although he feels homosexuals have a place in the foster-care system, Sprouse says it's a ``disservice'' to children not to have some sort of written policy addressing homosexuality.

In addition, he complains that his organization's survey of the nation's 51 foster-care agencies shows there are reams of technical regulations -- such as the required temperature of food refrigeration in a foster home -- but very few words about the parenting skills required.

Setting aside the moral issue of homosexuality, social workers agree that the social climate regarding homosexuality can affect the best interests of the child. While one community might accept such a placement, in another a child might be saddled with a negative stigma, they say. Further, there is debate on whether a child's sexual identity could be confused if homosexual adults are role models.

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