Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The kids are alright! Research continues to demonstrate the children of LGBTI parents are thriving

The results of what is reported to be the world’s largest study to date exploring the impact of LGBTI parenting on child health and development are expected in September 2013. 

The study is being undertaken by the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families (ACHESS).  The ACHESS is being conducted as part of the Jack Brockhoff Child Health and Wellbeing Program at the University of Melbourne.  It is the first study in Australia to consider the health and wellbeing of children with same-sex attracted parents.

The ACHESS is based on data collected on five hundred children aged from birth to seventeen years old.  Focussing on mental, physical and social wellbeing, the study also interviewed 315 LGBTI parents.  The adult participants were asked to complete the Child Health Questionnaire (CHQ).  The CHQ is a series of internationally recognised surveys designed to test for general quality of life. 

Whilst the full results of the ACHESS are still a couple of months away, an interim report is already available.  It suggests that children brought up by LGBTI parents are happier and healthier than their peers brought up by heterosexuals. 

On measures of general health and family cohesion, children aged 5 to 17 years with same-sex attracted parents scored significantly better when compared to Australian children from all backgrounds and family contexts.  For all other health measures there were no statistically significant differences.

Unsurprisingly, however, the study confirmed that children with same-sex attracted parents continued to face discrimination in a variety of contexts.

Said Dr Simon Crouch, the lead researcher on the ACHESS on this particular finding:

“One of our hypotheses is that this experience of discrimination does have an impact on child health and well being.”

What is perhaps most significant is that this impact appears to be a positive one.  In the face of discrimination, children with LGBTI parents are developing at least as well as the children not exposed to it. 

A detailed description of the ACHESS protocol and background research can be found online.

It may be the world’s largest – and to that extent is doubtless an important study – but the trends emerging from the ACHESS duplicate those from similar research around the world.  Earlier this year, a British study undertaken by Cambridge University’s Centre for Family Research confirmed the adopted children of same-sex parents were thriving.  Same-sex adoptive parents were found to be raising children just as successfully as heterosexual ones.  Gay men were found to be faring particularly well in managing the parenting challenges presented by children who had negative and damaging experiences in early life.  There was no evidence to support speculation that children's masculine or feminine tendencies were affected by having gay or lesbian parents.  Family life and the quality of relationships were very similar for children regardless of their parents' sexual orientation.

Professor Susan Golombok, the report’s co-author, commented on the results: 

Overall we found markedly more similarities than differences in experiences between family types.”
Quoted in the Independent at the time, she added: 

"What I don't like is when people make assumptions that a certain type of family, such as gay fathers, will be bad for children. The anxieties about the potentially negative effects for children of being placed with gay fathers seem to be, from our study, unfounded."

And a US study published in October 2012 undertaken by psychologists from the University of Central Los Angeles looking at welfare and development depending on whether adopted children were placed with gay, lesbian or heterosexual parents arrived at the same conclusion.  The children in that study ranged in age from 4 months to 8 years.  They presented with multiple risk factors at the time of adoption, including premature birth, prenatal substance exposure, abuse or neglect, and multiple prior placements.  The psychologists studied the children two months, one year and two years after they were placed with a family.  They found very few differences among the children at any of the assessments over the two-year period following placement.  All children achieved significant gains in their cognitive development, and their levels of behaviour problems remained stable.  This was despite the fact that the children adopted by gay and lesbian families had more risk factors at the time of their placement; out of nine risk factors, they averaged one additional risk factor, compared with the children adopted by heterosexual parents.

Said Letitia Anne Peplau, research professor of psychology at UCLA and co-author of the study:

"The children adopted by gay and lesbian parents had more challenges before they were adopted and yet they end up in the same place, which is impressive."

So let’s see what the final ACHESS report brings later this year, in terms of:

Ø                  whether further analysis of the data identifies the ways in which LGBTI discrimination affects children and their families, and
Ø                  characterising overall health and wellbeing in more detail.

But in the meantime, the evidence-led conclusion is unarguable.  The outcomes of all credible studies are consistent and support one conclusion:  children – whether they join the families through adoption, surrogacy or in some other way - brought up by LGBTI parents flourish!

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