A new US study shows that there are no significant differences in emotional problems experienced among children adopted by heterosexual and gay or lesbian parents.

The study, published in this month’s Adoption Quarterly, was authored by Scott Ryan, the dean of The University of Texas at Arlington School of Social Work, and Paige Averett and Blace Nalavany, assistant professors of social work at East Carolina University.

The researchers used survey results from parents who adopted children through Florida’s public child welfare system and data from gay and lesbian couples throughout the US.

“Our research shows that there is no difference in children raised by gay or lesbian parents and heterosexual parents,” said Ryan, who is an expert in the study of gay and lesbian adoption. “People are people.”

Emotional problems of adopted children were more likely predicted by age and pre-adoptive sexual abuse, Averett added.

The study also found that an increase in annual income, family operation and parental satisfaction with adoption preparation services could lead to significantly less emotional problems.

“But we did not find sexual orientation to be a significant predictor of behavioural problems,” Nalavany said.

Ryan said what makes the study different is that gay and lesbian couples were compared with heterosexual couples. The study also had a “robust sample size,” he said.

The study included 155 gay and lesbian couples and 1,229 heterosexual couples. Couples responded to questions about parent and child characteristics, family composition and dynamics, the child’s pre-adoptive history (or a history of maltreatment), and current emotional and behavioural functioning.

As of 2007, there were an estimated 130,000 children in the US child welfare system waiting to be adopted, yet a Library of Congress report noted “serious shortages” of qualified adoptive parents.

The American Civil Liberties Union contends that many gay and lesbian families are interested and willing to adopt children, yet policies of adoption agencies, social stigma and state laws have created barriers to adoption for gay and lesbian couples in the US.

“We must pay attention to the data indicating that gay and lesbian parents are as fit as heterosexual parents to adopt,” said Averett.

Ryan said he hopes the study shows social workers that children can grow up healthy in a variety of family forms.

He said the real hope for children who are waiting for parents to adopt them lies in lawmakers and administrators deciding that gay and lesbian couples can serve as well as heterosexual couples.

“The proof is in the research,” Ryan said.

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