According to the Equality Illinois publication Growing Your Family: A Guide for Prospective LGBT Adoptive Parents, there are more than "34,000 same-sex couples in long-term relationships living across the state, and 21 percent of these couples are raising children." While the passing of marriage equality afforded same-sex couples with children some protection, whether or not parentage is recognized can vary by state.
The Center for Law and Social Work ( CLSW )a non-profit located in Chicago's Uptown neighborhoodaddresses the unique challenges that LGBTQ families may face. Windy City Times spoke with CLSW's executive director of 10 years, Dr. Maria Nanos, LCSW, about the importance of LGBTQ families protecting their future through second-parent adoption services.
Windy City Times: How did the Center for Law and Social Work start?
Dr. Maria Nanos: It started in 2003 with mostly grandparents raising grandchildren and that grandparent having a standby adoption in the event he/she passed away or was unable to take care of the kids anymore. There'd be an automatic, seamless transfer to another person that he/she chooses and the whole family knows what that plan is. That's where it started but we have expanded quite a bit.
WCT: How has it evolved to where it is now?
MN: We now serve a lot of programs for adoption and guardianship. It's really three big buckets: one is working with Department of Child and Family Services ( DCFS ) involved families, post-adoption, post-guardianship. The next is our adoption listing service, so people interested in adopting our kids on the Heart Gallery on our site. The third big bucket has nothing to do with adoption and guardianship, but it's kind of a referrals resource for students that are sexually assaulted on college campus. It's called Porchlight Counseling. And then also we have our legal services: We can be your adoption attorney.
WCT: Tell us about the second-parent adoption services that CLSW offers.
MN: Because we are a non-profit, we're able to put our clients on a sliding scale based on income, which can slide down to $100. We don't discriminate because somebody doesn't have any money. This is true for any person and we offer [sliding scale] to everyone. ... We can do stepparent adoption with heterosexual couples and we're trying to get out there more with second-parent adoptions. If anyone needs to adopt a child, make a referral, the social worker can come meet your family and talk to you, make sure everything's on the up and up, then the attorney makes contact, they file it in court and it happens.
WCT: What are the typical demographics of the couples that seek out your services for second-parent adoptions?
MN: It's usually two lesbians. However, we've also had a transgender man whose spouse gave birth to the baby, and he wants to be identified as the father.
WCT: What are some of the LGBTQ-focused events that CLSW supports?
MN: Six months or so ago, there was a recruiting event for prospective foster parents at the Center on Halsted. We have a lot of youth who identify as LGBT and we need homes to at least foster them until they're eighteen years old. We also have an LGBT new moms group in Oak Park, so we're going to talk to them about second-parent adoption and how important that is.
WCT: And you sponsor a Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association ( CMSA ) volleyball team?
MN: We do! It's called Second Parent Strong.
WCT: CLSW had a second-parent adoption workshop over the summercan you tell us about that?
MN: We were a sponsor of [Pride Kids &] Family Fest on Clark Stteet the day before the Pride Parade. They had about 300 families and we were handing out information about second-parent adoptions. We had a lot of people calling asking for more information, so we set that date and we had fourteen couples come for the first workshop. We hope to have another one in January; one up here and one on the southside because we have an office near 35th and Ashland which opened in May. We also have an office in Springfield and we hope to do one there, as well.
WCT: What happens in the workshop?
MN: It's basically a second-parent adoption 101. We basically explain why it's important and then it's a Q&A. We actually went around and met with each family, because everybody's got a different situation. Here's the thing that came up that was kind of interesting. With three of the couples that I talked to, the mom who carried the baby used their spouse's egg. So, then they asked, 'Who's the birth mother?"
WCT: Right, because there's the mother who gave birth and the genetic birth mother. I assume it would be similar to surrogacy.
MN: Yep, the birth mom is the genetic mom, even though you gave birth. And you'd still need second-parent adoption.
WCT: What are the advantages of LGBTQ couples pursuing second-parent adoption, particularly in light of marriage equality passing?
MN: When we were at the Fest, all kinds of people came through. Some said, 'Oh, I'm on the birth certificate.' Just having your name on the birth certificate is enough in the state of Illinois because we recognize a birth certificate as parents. There was a case, an interracial coupleone parent was African American and one Caucasian. The Caucasian spouse had the babies, they were much more "Caucasian-looking," and there was an accident. The Caucasian mom was incapacitated and the African American mother was, like, 'These are my kids[to the authorities].' She produced the birth certificate and they were like, 'We care about your birth certificate and we don't acknowledge that in our state.' She had not adopted them. It's just too risky. If she's had those adoption papers…
WCT: That's awful.
MN: Not only going out of the state, a birth certificate is not going to cut it if a couple gets divorced. If you didn't adopt that baby, it could get messy. What if the birth mother takes physical custody and denies the other person visitation? Adoption is forever, it's about having equal footing.
WCT: What do you see as the future of the organization?
MN: We'll probably venture into working with older people who need guardians. We also do adult guardianshipsminors with special needs who turn 18 and they need an adult guardian. Those adults need to be protected. I want the LGBT community to be protected. And I want their kids to be protected, as well.
To learn more about the Center for Law and Social Work's services and second-parent adoption workshops, or to donate, visit CLSW.org. Also, one of the couples will be celebrating Adoption Day with other adoptees at the Daley Center, 50 W. Washington St., on Friday, Nov. 22, at 10:30 a.m.