Sexual orientation, gender identity, and foster care: What can social science offer in a case like Fulton v. City of Philadelphia?

Charlotte J. Patterson, Rachel H. Farr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Are empirical data and results of research by social scientists relevant to court decisions in foster care cases, and if so, how? How should they be brought to the court's attention? These questions arose in the context of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia (2021), a recent U.S. Supreme Court case that posed the question of whether a religiously based foster care agency could refuse to provide service to LGBTQ+ prospective foster parents on the grounds of religious beliefs, and still accept public funds. Empirical evidence is relevant to the evaluation of at least three propositions related to foster care that were raised in Fulton: (1) There is a need for qualified prospective foster parents; (2) LGBTQ+ adults are at least as likely as others to be interested in becoming foster parents and they are likely to become competent foster parents; and (3) If sufficient numbers of qualified prospective foster parents cannot be found, children are likely to suffer. Consideration of the evidence reveals that each of these three propositions is supported by factual evidence. In the United States today, there is a definite need for competent foster parents, and competence as a foster or adoptive parent is not associated with parental sexual orientation. Moreover, LGBTQ+ adults may be more likely to show interest in becoming foster parents, on average, than their heterosexual peers. If LGBTQ+ adults are not permitted to become foster parents, some children are very likely to remain without homes, and in this way, will suffer. If the best interests of children are to prevail, then child welfare agencies should search out, welcome, and support LGBTQ+ prospective foster parents, rather than turning them away. Ways of bringing the findings from research to the attention of the court are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-22
Number of pages13
JournalFamily Court Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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