Central Florida agency looks to get the word out on same-sex couples becoming foster parents
David, or DJ as his family and friends call him, is a quiet and well-behaved teenager. DJ, who is openly gay, loves his pet Chihuahuas, enjoys seeing the drag shows at Hamburger Maryâ€™s and spends his time learning about life from his two dads, Steven and Gerald Wagner-Young. Just your typical modern family.
â€œDJâ€™s a good kid with a good spirit,â€ says Gerald Wagner-Young. â€œWhether he is having a good day or bad day he finds a way to put a smile on his face. Every time. That says something about a 15 year old who has been through some stuff.â€
Steven and Gerald Wagner-Young adopted DJ, who had been in the foster care system since he was six, in 2018. The Wagner-Youngâ€™s began dating in 2013 and married in 2014. At the time they were married Steven Wagner-Young says he hadnâ€™t given much thought to becoming a father.
â€œWe never really talked about it while we were dating because I was still under the impression that we could not adopt,â€ Steven Wagner-Young says. â€œI read something after we were married about how same-sex couples can now adopt, so I looked into it.â€
Same-sex couples not being able to foster or adopt children is a common misconception, says Danielle Levien. Levien is the communications manager for Embrace Families, an organization that manages the foster care and adoption system for Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties.
â€œThereâ€™s a lot of misinformation about who can and cannot foster and adopt a child, especially in the LGBTQ community,â€ Levien says. â€œThat theyâ€™re not able to foster or adopt is absolutely not true. We have put a lot of our efforts into getting the word out because if someone has a heart for a child, and that child is going to be safe in their care, then we want you.â€
That misinformation not only keeps a loving same-sex couple from fostering or adopting, but it also takes away a home from an LGBTQ foster child who would benefit from an accepting environment and a family that understands what that child is going through.
â€œOne of the things that is very evident is how difficult itâ€™s been finding a substantial number of homes to place our LGBTQ youth into when it comes to foster families,â€ Levien says. â€œThereâ€™s still a lot of â€˜Well, I donâ€™t have any experience with this. I donâ€™t know if Iâ€™m going to be able to help a child who is experiencing this.â€™ And sometimes unfortunately thereâ€™s stigma and bias.
â€œAt the end of the day we need families for our kids,â€ Levien continues. â€œOur kids deserve to have loving families who are there to take care of them. So being able to recruit enough households that will accept LGBTQ children is vital. Thatâ€™s really the hardest part, that constant recruitment.â€
Embrace Families began stepping up efforts to reach out to the LGBTQ community to get the word out that you can be a foster parent regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
â€œWe have a video series that we started last year called â€˜What To Expect When Youâ€™re Expecting (To Be A Foster Parent)â€™ which feature stories from multiple LGBTQ families,â€ says Levien. Embrace Families also showcases LGBTQ families in its video series â€œFostering With Prideâ€ and featured a gay single father in a Valentineâ€™s Day video.
â€œWe want to let people know that just because youâ€™re single doesnâ€™t mean that youâ€™re unable to foster,â€ says Levien. â€œWeâ€™ve been trying to make sure that weâ€™re able to meet people where they are. It can be kind of scary coming out to one of our Q&A sessions. But [the video series] gives you the ability to watch from the comfort of your own home, listening to someone whoâ€™s from that same community being able to talk about their own experiences and being able to identify with them.â€
They have been partnering with the Zebra Collation and The LGBT+ Center of Orlando, holding Q&A sessions for same-sex couples and LGBTQ individuals who want to foster.
â€œWeâ€™re looking for champions in the LGBTQ community,â€ Levien says. â€œHow can we break down the barriers? How can we meet you where you are? So that you know that there is an opportunity.â€
The decision to adopt DJ was an easy one for the Wagner-Youngâ€™s.
â€œI always knew that whether I was with someone or single, I wanted to adopt,â€ Gerald Wagner-Young, who was himself adopted as a child, says. â€œIt has nothing to do with being gay or straight. The goal is to help a young person have a happy home.â€
Credit for this story goes to: Jeremy Williams, Watermark