+ PRAGMATIC IMBALANCES: AUSTRALIAN LESBIAN AND GAY FOSTER CARERS AND THE CURRENT LEGAL CONTEXT Dr Damien W. Riggs | Flinders University + Overview Laws dont actively discriminate, but nor do they explicitly protect in any of the states bar one Organisations can refuse to assess on the basis of religious exemption Whilst EO laws would likely apply, this has seldom been tested, and when it has it has failed Further, the lack of mention of EO laws doesn‟t necessarily engender a context whereby social workers are aware of their obligations nor carers aware of their rights Also, the lack of clear guidance as to what happens if discrimination does occur means that there are no clear consequences for social workers Some states actively recruit lesbian or gay applicants, but there is almost no policy to manage this Reactive responses to public opinion + AU Laws Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act, 1998 (NSW) “Children's services must also have regard to the provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act, 1977” (NSW). The Act referred to here (one that is New South Wales-specific) explicitly legislates (in Part 4C) against „discrimination on the grounds of homosexuality‟. + AU Laws The Queensland Child Protection Act 1999, in its criteria for approval of an individual as a carer, includes the requirement that both “the applicant is a suitable person to be an approved foster carer” and “all members of the applicant‟s household are suitable persons to associate on a daily basis with children” As social and individual opinion on „suitability‟ often shifts, it is fair to suggest that the provision of catch-all criteria in regards to approval creates a context where the inclusion of lesbian and gay applicants may be viewed by some as open to dispute, even if legally this should not be the case. + AU Policy Only Victoria has policy for recruiting, assessing and case managing lesbian or gay foster carers This, however, is only a best practice guideline Only VIC and SA government websites state that same-sex couples can apply Some Many specific agency websites also say this, but most dont include a catch-all criteria such as“your maturity, health and lifestyle will also be considered” (QLD government website) + Previous Research This lack of clarity in laws and policy is potentially related to ongoing findings of discrimination in Australia My research with lesbian and gay carers in 2006 and again in 2010 found both heteronormative and homophobic experiences „maybe you better start thinking about how you would react if [your foster daughter] is heterosexual‟. „are you sure it wouldn‟t be better if he did something like football‟. „They said it is not appropriate to have a gay adolescent staying with a gay male‟. + Data 30 lesbian or gay foster carers were interviewed. Majority of the sample were white lesbian women in couple relationships who had been caring for >5 years Interviews focused closely on support (both positive and negative) and potentially unique benefits provided by lesbian and gay carers. The data were analysed utilising thematic analytic principles Whilst the topic of the law was not featured in any of the interview questions, a significant number of the interviewees spoke about their experiences in terms of „rights‟ + Analytic Frame „Pragmatic imbalances‟ Whilst the majority of the sample were relatively politically active and left-leaning in their political views and ideas about what constitutes justice for lesbians and gay men in Australia in general, they seemed very mindful of the responsibility they have to the children in their care who may have needs or past experiences that conflict with their own needs or experiences. It would be fair to state that the majority of participants would likely have wished for policy change to better support lesbians and gay men as foster carers). Nonetheless, they were willing to, in a sense, to sacrifice their own political positions as lesbians and gay men in order to prioritise the needs of the children in their care, rather than resorting to what Baird (2008) terms a „child fundamentalist‟ account that would conflate children‟s rights with gay rights. + Analysis Cara: We became partners after I took on care of the kids and until then I had played it pretty low key with me being a lesbian, but especially so after having the kids because I know that things around here aren‟t all that great in terms of people‟s attitudes. Kate: And initially it did bother me because coming from being a long time politically active lesbian and having all my friends being lesbian I was like „no, I want the whole world to know, there‟s two mums here‟ Cara: Yeah she wanted a billboard up! But I said I think we need to leave it to the kids to decide how they want to represent us to the world, even if personally now I would be happy to be as open as Kate would like for us to be as a couple. + Analysis Ben: This one day [the child] saw me kiss my then partner and he was disgusted. He harassed me about it for weeks. It wasn‟t a pash just a firm kiss on the lips and he jumped up and said “you are boy, he not a girl you no kiss him”. He wouldn‟t stop saying that like he was just disgusted for the whole day. Later I told someone else about it and they gave me this look which suggested I shouldn‟t have kissed my partner. At the time I was really stung about that because I am weary of the scrutiny that gays get and think it is totally unacceptable, particularly within the foster care sector. Yet over time, and for me, what became more important was [the child‟s] safety and that if they were willing for me to still care for him then I was willing to be managed around that. + Analysis Anne: We have worked with lots of other carers to support them in getting a placement and negotiating the system, and whilst I certainly think we are known amongst our friends as being pretty political, in many instances we try and steer clear of making things too political. One time a gay couple we were talking to weren‟t having any luck getting a placement after being approved and they suggested that it was due to homophobia and wondered if we could help them challenge that. In the end we helped them get a placement but we didn‟t run with homophobia as an issue because we felt that if we made that the issue it would become the main issue and either they wouldn‟t have still got a placement or they would have and by then the focus on the kids and their needs would have been sidetracked. + Analysis Rosemary: I think we need to let the community move with us. I think if we are seen to be too outrageous and too political that will throw the baby out with the bathwater „cos we need to be mindful of the current carers who have kids in their care who are walking very careful lines to get their orders through so if any one of us went out there and started waving rainbow flags we actually could be jeopardising the current status of families and most importantly children and we wouldn‟t do that. Instead, I think it‟s about what we do: we share resources, expertise, experience. + Conclusions Despite the discourse of „pragmatic imbalances‟, we need to consider what does need to change Inclusion of EO laws in all foster care laws – not as a gay rights issue per se, but to protect already vulnerable placements Clear information about which agencies will and which will not accept lesbian or gay applicants Reconsideration by the states as to who they tender child protection work to in terms of religious exemptions Clear implications for homophobia and training to accompany this Recognition of the utility of placement matching Clear information about whether or not birth parents are consulted + Publications Riggs, D.W. (2010). Pragmatic imbalances: Australian lesbian and gay foster carers. In. P Gerber & A. Sifris (Eds.), Current trends in the regulation of same-sex relationships. Annandale: Federation Press. Riggs, D.W. (2011). Perceptions of support among Australian lesbian and gay foster carers. In M. Morrison, D.T. McDermott, M.A. Carrigan & T.G. Morrison (Eds.) Sexual minority research in the new millenium. New York: Nova Science. Riggs, D.W. (in-press 2011). Australian lesbian and gay foster carers negotiating the child protection system: Strengths and challenges. Sexuality Research and Social Policy.
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