Familiar fears : the assessment of lesbian and gay fostering and adoption applicants
This thesis considers how local authority social workers go about assessing the suitability of lesbians and gay men to foster or adopt children. It also asks how far a stated lesbian or gay sexuality is problematic within this process. A constructionist approach to social enquiry is used, data being generated by interviews with social workers, as well as a case study of a lesbian couple’s adoption application. Dorothy Smith’s ‘institutional ethnography’ is also employed to examine the ‘relations of ruling’ that structure such assessments. A continuum of assessment models is proposed in order to show the dominance of ‘on merit’ approaches which prioritise child care skills over sexuality issues. The thesis demonstrates the presence of arguments about the supposed ‘risks’ to children posed by lesbians or gay men. The notion of ‘discrimination’ in assessments is analysed, as are attempts by some social workers to challenge discrimination, and it is argued that small-scale anti-discriminatory measures are inadequate. Constructions of the categories ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ are discussed in relation to the ‘good carer of children’, and the thesis proposes the dominance of two versions: the ‘good lesbian’ and the ‘maternal gay man’. The thesisargues that the ‘on merit: prioritisation of child care skills’ model relies upon heteronormative ideas, and the case study looks at contested meanings given to the category ‘lesbian’ which are also gendered and raced. The thesis sees ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ as categories of knowledge, and social work assessment as a ‘making sense’ activity in which versions of these are produced. Such everyday practices are problematised in the thesis, and discourse, (black) feminist and queer theories are used to analyse how the assessment is a site for the production of knowledges about sexuality.