Children’s welfare supersedes adult agendas
With the passage of Arkansas Proposed Initiative Act No. 1, sexual partners living together outside of a valid marriage will be unable to adopt or foster children. This act has been the source of much controversy throughout the state.
And what most are saying is true: the act is flawed in more ways than one, and the wording on the ballot might have made it confusing for voters as to whether they were voting “yes” or “no.”
But the act’s core argument – that the healthiest and most stable environment for children is to live with a married couple – can’t be denied.
In 2007, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that there were 6.4 million unmarried, opposite-sex couples living together in the country. More than 45 percent had at least one biological child living with them.
Of those born to cohabiting parents, 75 percent see their parents split up before they hit age 16, according to a 2004 study published in Population Studies. And children living with a mother and her unmarried partner are more likely to have behavioral problems and lower academic performance.
Despite this evidence that children are safer and have more stable lives in homes with married parents, the issue obviously isn’t so black and white. Children with married parents aren’t immune to unstable environments. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2004, Arkansas had the second-highest reported divorce rate, at 6.3 per 1,000 couples.
Furthermore, plenty of married couples are unfit to adopt and foster children, and plenty of unmarried, cohabiting couples certainly could provide loving, stable homes for Arkansas children. There are experts who can determine that.
And given that the need for adoptive and foster parents is great, tightening the restrictions and thereby reducing the pool of eligible adopters also seems somewhat counterintuitive.
Within the law itself, ambiguities exist that make the act seem inconsistent with its intent to ensure the best possible living arrangements for children. For example, the law makes no provision for the desire of the biological parents, which means that if a dying mother wanted her unmarried but cohabiting brother to adopt her child, her wish could not legally be granted.
If the law does not prevent singles from adopting or fostering children – and it doesn’t seem to – then that same brother could adopt his sister’s child if he stopped living with his sexual partner. But what would prevent him from cohabiting again later, after the adoption is complete? By the same token, what would prevent any individual from first adopting a child and then cohabiting?
Maybe a single adoptive parent could be a stabilizing factor for a child, even if that parent moved in and out of live-in relationships with sexual partners, but that situation is still no closer to the ideal than the original adoption of a child by a cohabiting couple.
But what we are imploring readers to recognize is that, statistically (and we stress the “statistically” because we think this issue can probably only be sorted out on a case-by-case basis), the ideal placement for a child in need of adoption is with a married man and woman.
We also hope readers will grant that that ideal is largely what prompted the Arkansas Family Council to promote this act. While the council admitted the prevention of adoption by gay couples was a partial motivation, the organization claimed it devised the act to improve the lives of children, and readers should permit them that. We trust all Arkansans agree the welfare of children should come before any adult agenda.
With that being said, the act still seems likely to be ineffective in moving the Arkansas adoption and foster care system closer to that professed ideal, which means Arkansans still need to look for ways to ensure that children placed in adoptive homes or foster care are not subjected to instability, emotional turmoil or, worst of all, neglect or abuse.
One of the first things concerned citizens can do is to fret less about this law and work to change the culture that necessitates a foster care system in the first place. This means, in part, striving to strengthen existing marriages, educating at-risk youth about the importance of abstinence or safe sex, and, insofar as possible, preventing health problems before they arise.