With the help of four GW students, psychology professor Stephen Forssell has taken the first steps toward a research project that will compare and assess gay, lesbian and heterosexual couples who have adopted and are raising children.
Though issues such as a gay adoption have at times become politically divisive and shrouded in rhetoric, Forssell said his team is trying to get to the truth.
“We’re just trying to make good research,” Forssell said. “No matter what we do, political groups will seize upon whatever supports their view.”
Sophomore Thomas Lotito, one of Forssell’s research assistants, said the research will focus on three major areas: children’s well-being, the abilities of the parents and the quality of the relationship between the parents.
“We expect that there will be very few differences between families, based on previous research,” Forssell said. “Differences that have come up in the past are minimal. It’s not that kids in one family are doing better – just different.”
Forssell, along with senior Colin Christopher, began brainstorming the project in fall 2004. A year later, the research is still lacking funding and a definite sample group – two key components for their research project to take place. The group decided not to apply for GW funding because of Forssell’s status as a visiting assistant professor.
“If we do eventually get funding from (the National Institutes of Health) or some government organization, the government can use it (the findings from the research) for political policy,” Forssell said.
The team, including 2005 graduate Scott Kraiterman and senior Lindsay Walter-Cox, has no plans to stop moving forward with their research, despite the obstacles.
“We’ve looked at what’s missing in the literature, and we’re going to try to address it,” Forssell said.
The only adoption agency to agree to work with Forssell on the project is Adoptions Together, an agency that has offices in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia.
“We’ve … put a list of families together (who have adopted children) over the last five years,” said Susan Ogden, the domestic program director for Adoptions Together. Ogden estimated that about 30 families are on the list right now.
Although the topic of research may be a politically charged one, Christopher remained optimistic that Adoptions Together’s intentions are politically objective.
“I think they just want everyone to get a clear idea of how adoptions work,” Christopher said.
Once a sample group has been established, the children will be asked to fill out standardized written tests to determine their well-being. The parents, and possibly the children’s teachers, will also be asked to fill out standardized tests, Christopher said.
Jeffrey Holth, chairman of the GW College Republicans, does not think the research will have a noticeable impact on lawmakers. He also expressed some concern as to the definition of quality parenting.
“Different people will give many different answers when asked what quality parenting entails,” Holth said. “Immediately, one can see that there is a large subjective piece to this study.”
Robert McRuer, an associate English professor who teaches a gay culture class, also had concerns about the research.
“Given the extreme historical and cross-cultural variability in family forms, it’s simply not possible to arrive at some ‘truth’ about what’s ‘best’ for children in some, supposedly, ‘objective’ vacuum,” McRuer wrote in an email.
McRuer was also concerned with the validity of measuring successful parenting. “With all due respect to my colleagues in the social sciences, deciding which measures will be used to judge a family’s effectiveness has political valences,” McRuer wrote.
Forssell and his team contend that research is always needed to address changing views in society.
“I think, especially with politically charged topics, research is the best way to mediate differences,” Christopher said. “Doing scholarly work, in whatever field you are in, is a good forum for debate.”