Ping (zestyping) wrote,

Foster parenting and sexual orientation.

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In a special Gaywatch feature on Tuesday's edition of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart announced that the Texas House of Representatives "recently passed a bill forbidding gay people from adopting foster children."

He showed a clip from CNN in which Cathie Adams, President of the Texas Eagle Forum, faced off against Randall Ellis, Executive Director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas. Adams boldly declared that children in homes with homosexual couples were "eleven times more likely to be abused sexually," citing this as a "proven fact" according to a "study done in the state of Illinois." Ellis responded, "No one who has access to any of the credible research being done on these issues has ever mentioned anything close to that."

Jon Stewart: "Why don't you call them on their bullshit on the air? You're an anchor, for fuck's sake!"
Instead of checking up on Adams's sources, Kyra Phillips of CNN proved herself utterly incompetent in her job as a news anchor by declaring "It's an interesting debate, a good debate," and ending the conversation. Jon Stewart promptly gave her the roasting she deserved. Way to go, Jon.

But what exactly is going on here? How did this bill get passed? What study was Adams talking about? I thought i'd do a little research and find out.

Robert Talton: "We do not believe that homosexuals and bisexuals should be raising our children."
First, the bill. On April 19, Republican Representative Robert Talton proposed a last-minute amendment to SB 6, a bill overhauling Child Protective Services. The amendment inserts a section that not only disqualifies homosexual or bisexual people from becoming foster parents, but also empowers the Protective Services Department to investigate the sexual orientation of current foster parents and remove children from their care if they are determined to be homosexual or bisexual. (In other words, the amendment calls for nothing less than a government-sponsored witch hunt.)

Shortly after its introduction, Talton's amendment passed 81 to 58, and two days later, the bill itself passed in the House, 135 to 6 (see the bottom of page 6). It has yet to pass in the Senate; thankfully, it seems likely that the amendment won't stand, since so much outrage has been expressed about the ban and many senators don't want to hold up the entire bill with an extended controversy over one amendment.

I looked in the House Journal (search for "Amendment 60") to find out what was said in the debate over this amendment. What really disgusts me is that the sole mention of any evidence related to foster parenting by homosexual or bisexual people in the entire debate was this:

ANCHIA: Is there any empirical data to support that same-sex parents are bad parents?

HUPP: I don't know, but to be honest with you, please don't take me down that road in this argument because we will be here all night.

That's it. Not a single citation of relevant facts. No mention of how this is going to affect the children who are forcibly removed from their parents. As you can see from a look at the Journal, most of the discussion was focused on how much it would cost to investigate foster parents and close foster homes.

(By the way, why is nearly every recorded vote followed by statements from a few representatives claiming their vote had been incorrectly recorded or they had missed the vote? There are 7 such statements following the vote on Talton's Amendment 60, which seems unusually many. Is it common for voting mechanisms to fail so frequently in the House? Is this some kind of tactic to go on record voting one way but actually be counted voting a different way? If you know what this is about, please fill me in.)

Cathie Adams: "We also have got to look at research that does show that children in same-sex couple homes are eleven times more likely to be abused — sexually — and I think that that is not an issue that can be ignored. It is a proven fact, and that was a research study done in the state of Illinois."
Second, the so-called study. A little research revealed that the study Adams is trying to cite — but cites incorrectly — is the study described in this WorldNetDaily article, which has also been cited by some conservative blogs as evidence that homosexuals are especially likely to commit child abuse.

The study is published in Psychological Reports, a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal that has been running for 50 years. At first glance, that looks like a pretty reputable publication. It didn't take long to discover that the author of the article, Paul Cameron of the Family Research Institute, is well known for a long career of attacking homosexuals with flawed studies and has been thrown out of the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association for violating ethical principles and misrepresenting research.

But let's set that aside for a moment. What does the article actually say?

It turns out that we actually have this journal in one of our libraries here at Berkeley. So I walked down to Tolman to check out the article for myself. It's short — just four pages — so i made a copy, which i have right here.

Cameron, P. Child molestations by homosexual foster parents: Illinois, 1997-2002. Psychological Reports, 2005, 96, 227-230.

Cameron opens the article by describing two of his own earlier studies, both with laughably unsound methods. In the first, he noted six reports of child sexual abuse by foster parents: three by a foster parent of the same sex as the child and three by a foster parent of the opposite sex. Based on just these six incidents, he declares "these results seem to validate traditional concerns about sexual recruitment of children by homosexuals." Evidently the concept of a statistically significant sample is lost on him. In the second, he sampled "14 years of news stories about foster parents' molestation of charges in the 50 newspapers with the largest circulation in the English-speaking world." Are we to believe that the news stories in the most popular papers provide an accurate and unbiased sample of all the actual incidents?

Cameron then proceeds to describe the main study, which consisted of examining "a complete list of 'substantiated physical or sexual abuse' by perpetrator's sex as well as the sex of victim(s) for 1997 through 2002," provided by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Of the 966 offenders, the sex of the victim was known for 963. Cameron's breakdowns of the numbers are given in a long paragraph, which i'll summarize here:

sexual abuse abuser 100%
child F 67 148 215
M 30 25 55
  97 173 270
physical abuse abuser 100%
child F 268 68 336
M 276 96 372
  544 164 708
sexual and physical abuser 100%
child F 8 4 12
M 3 0 3
  11 4 15

In percentages, that looks like this:

sexual abuse abuser 100%
child F 25 55 80%
M 11 9 20%
  36 64 100%
physical abuse abuser 100%
child F 38 10 47%
M 39 14 53%
  77 23 100%
sexual and physical abuser 100%
child F 53 27 80%
M 20 0 20%
  73 27 100%

Cameron cites an estimate that 3% of the general population is homosexual. Then, based on the figures for sexual abuse, he observes that a total of 34% of sexual abusers (25% + 9% in the leftmost table above) abuse children of the same sex. Comparing these two figures, he writes "the disproportionality of the homosexual footprint was evident in each dataset" and concludes that "homosexual practitioners were proportionately more apt to sexually abuse foster or adoptive children." Others that cite this research, including the woman on the CNN "debate", arrive at their figure of "eleven times" by comparing 34% to 3%.

The glaring error in all of these studies is that they use no data on the sexual orientation of the foster parents. The Illinois DCFS doesn't record whether the parents are a same-sex or opposite-sex couple. Cameron's conclusion assumes that all child abusers identify themselves as either heterosexual or homosexual, that heterosexuals only abuse children of the opposite sex and homosexuals only abuse children of the same sex. But there's no evidence that the sex of a child abuse victim has anything to do with the preferred sexual orientation of the perpetrator's adult romantic relationships.

The title of the article, "Child Molestations by Homosexual Foster Parents," is extremely misleading, since it suggests that the foster parents were known beforehand to be homosexual, whereas in fact, their classification as "homosexual" was based solely on the abuse. The phrase "homosexual foster parents" might even appear to suggest that the parents were homosexual couples, which is exactly the mistake that Cathie Adams made when she referred to "children in same-sex couple homes." Adams's statement is completely different from what is claimed by the article; it isn't even remotely supported at all. It's a shame she didn't bother to read her source before calling her claim a "proven fact." Any decent news anchor should have challenged her on it.

The article title should be "Child Molestations by Foster Parents of the Same Sex," and the proper conclusion is that children are more likely to be sexually abused by a parent of the opposite sex (66%) than a parent of the same sex (34%).

The social science literature documents a great deal of credible research on parenting by homosexual people, and there is plenty of evidence that homosexual couples raise children to be just as healthy, positive, and socially well-adjusted as other children.

(Update: The article is available online. Guess i didn't have to go to the library.)

(Update: Carl Bialik has written column in the Wall Street Journal addressing this article as well. Maybe i didn't have to spend the 10 hours or so on this little investigation. Sigh.)

(Update: I just noticed that the online version of the Cameron article has a different title from the published paper. In the online version, the title is revised to "Homosexual Child Molestations By Foster Parents," which stands in glaring contrast with the first sentence of the abstract — the question this study claims to answer but does not: "Do those who engage in homosexuality disproportionately sexually abuse foster or adoptive children as reported by child protective services?")

(Update: The woman supporting the ban on homosexual foster parents is Cathie Adams. I've edited the above to use her name instead of "the woman on CNN." I also added the image of Jon Stewart.)

(Update: I realized that the data in the study actually supports quite a different conclusion.)

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