Saturday, October 5, 2002

Sydney Morning Herald - "Same-sex couples enlisted to solve foster-parent crisis" by Erin O'Dwyer

Gay and lesbian couples are being urged to foster disadvantaged children in a bid to address the dire shortage of foster families across the state.

Welfare agencies have approved dozens of gay men and lesbians as foster carers, in stark contrast to state laws that prohibit same-sex couples from adopting children.

NSW Foster Care Association president Mary Jane Beach said same-sex couples were able to provide emotionally stable and financially secure home environments, at a time when fewer traditional families were willing to take on foster children.

"We see lots of gay and lesbian carers who are absolutely outstanding," she said.

The foster carer shortage is so critical that last month the Department of Community Services (DOCS) launched its largest recruitment campaign, targeting single women and people in their 20s. Fortnightly foster-care allowances were also increased by $21 to $721.

Each day in NSW, six children are placed in emergency care and more than 10,000 young people across the state are unable to live at home. Yet there are only 4000 registered foster carers.

DOCS and other welfare agencies are yet to begin actively recruiting same-sex couples and there are no figures available to show how many gay men and lesbians are approved carers. But gay lobby groups say the community is an untapped market and are calling on welfare agencies to promote more gay fostering.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby convener David Scamell said foster parenting was a viable option for same-sex couples who wanted to have children but could not because government policy explicitly banned same-sex couples from adopting children, and access to IVF was not universally available to lesbians.

The Foster Care Association has backed the call. Ms Beach said more than a dozen same-sex foster parents were members of the association, including one lesbian couple who had fostered for more than 20 years.

"It doesn't matter what gender they are," Ms Beach said. "It's the level of care they are able to provide and their ability to meet the needs of the children, whether they are single, gay or lesbian, or married."

Publisher Silke Bader and her partner of seven years, banker Tanya Sale, received two foster children just nine months after they first registered with DOCS and welfare agency Barnardo's.

Ms Bader, who publishes national lesbian magazine LOTL, said the couple became foster parents because they could not adopt and did not want to use donor sperm.

Their children - a brother and sister aged four and six - enjoy a stable home environment. They have lived together as a family in Coogee for two years, while the children's six siblings have been moved three times.

Ms Bader said she and her partner also had a very good relationship with the children's natural parents.

A DOCS spokeswoman said anyone who expressed an interest in fostering would be considered, regardless of their sexuality. "The paramount consideration is always the best interests of the child," she said.

[Link: Original Article]

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