Pima County has about five times as many foster children as foster homes, so local agencies are recruiting outside the core group of straight, married couples who make up most of the state’s foster families.
La Paloma Family Services is launching a recruitment partnership with Wingspan, Southern Arizona’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center. The two organizations hope to spread awareness about the need for foster homes and encourage those in the LGBT community to consider opening their homes to a child in need.
For Tucsonans Patrick Holt and his partner David Dryden of Tucson, adopting two children through the foster care system has been life-changing and endlessly rewarding. Gymnastics and dance practices now fill their weekends as they raise 7-year-old Mimi and 3-year-old Auggie.
“It changes everything,” says Holt, an associate professor in the School of Theater, Film and Television at University of Arizona. “The one thing I was never prepared for was the emotional commitment of being worried about another human being 24-7. You don’t realize how intense it’s going to be, but it’s also the best part. You become second in your life, and these children become first.”
Holt says bias against LGBT individuals and couples alienates many potential foster families.
“I just think people assume because of the political climate that it’s not an option for them,” he says.
Many faith-based foster and adoption agencies won’t license same-sex couples. A 2011 state law, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer, gives priority to married men and women over singles in state-funded and private agency adoptions. Many criticized the law as anti-gay.
Holt is the sole legal guardian of his and his partners’ children because under Arizona’s adoption statute, only a husband and wife can jointly adopt.
“It’s bizarre. We’re the only parents these kids have really ever known, but the state doesn’t acknowledge it,” he says.
Wingspan CEO Carol Grimsby says she hopes the recruitment effort will make LGBT families feel more welcome in the foster care and adoption community.
“Many LGBT couples and individuals would really like to be foster parents,” she says. But, “can you really imagine going into one of the religious organizations, even though they may be desperate for good foster parents, and knowing you’ll be turned away? It’s demoralizing.”
Recruiting new foster families has become critical in Arizona, as the number of children in foster care has reached 15,300 — including almost 3,500 in Pima County. The trend over the past few years shows more foster families leaving the system than joining.
There are now 3,805 foster families in Arizona and 15,300 foster children, compared to 3,954 foster families and 10,000 foster kids in 2009.
To meet the expected need for foster placements, Pima County will need about 300 more foster beds in 2014, said Marnie Greggs of La Paloma Family Services.
For Holt, 18-hour workdays and out-of-state freelance design work are things of the past. But the priority change came at the right time in his and Dryden’s lives, he says.
“There’s nothing we’d rather be doing than hanging out at home with the kids,” he says. “It’s definitely not right for everybody — straight or gay. There’s just such a need and we have the home, we have the means, we have the time.”