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Mapping Family Relationships: A cross-cultural comparison of adolescent well-being in gay and lesbian adoptive families in Portugal and in the United Kingdom


Pedro Alexandre Costa, ISPA – University Institute, Lisbon, Portugal & Birkbeck University of London

Isabel Leal, ISPA – University Institute

Fiona Tasker, Birkbeck University of London

Funding: Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT: Portuguese Science Foundation) post-doctoral research grant to Pedro Alexandre Costa

Reference: SFRH/BPD/102036/2014

Three decades of research on parenting competences and child development in gay and lesbian parented families have shown little or no evidence of differences when compared to matched groups of heterosexual parented families (Crowl, Ahn, & Baker, 2008). On the contrary, it has been shown that it is family processes and not family configuration that links into children’s psychological adjustment (Tasker & Golombok, 1997). Most families studied to date had children conceived in previous heterosexual relationships, and those with children planned through adoption or donor insemination are still understudied, particularly in countries where these options are not legally possible for same-sex couples (Tasker & Patterson, 2007). Outside of the US, only one major study, conducted in the UK, has studied family functioning and child’s adjustment in adoptive families (Golombok et al., 2014; Jennings et al., 2014). Although this study showed that child development was similar to that of a matched group, openness about family configuration and child’s social adjustment was not evaluated. Children adopted by same-sex couples, as well as parents, must contend with societal stigma and this concern has been expressed by many parents (Ray & Gregory, 2001). For these families, how and when they disclose their family configuration to the outside world may be an additional source of stress, particularly for children who may be more likely to be victimized at school (Bos et al., 2008). Adoption itself poses a unique challenge that may affect child adjustment since the adoptive parents must create a new family environment for the child out of previous experiences of loss. No major studies have so far considered whether a history of adoption poses an additional challenge to adolescents brought up in gay/lesbian parented families, or whether these families have additional resources that promote resilience (Oswald, 2002).

This research project sets out to investigate the quality of family relationships and children’s psychosocial development in adoptive gay, lesbian, and heterosexual parented families in Portugal and in the United Kingdom. From a theoretical perspective, this project is founded upon a developmental systemic approach, which assumes that parenting characteristics and family dynamics will determine child’s outcomes rather than family configuration. The proposed research has 4 objectives: (1) To examine the relationship between the child’s psychosocial adjustment (at home and at school) and their family type (gay, lesbian or heterosexual); (2) To evaluate how parenting behaviours are associated with child’s adjustment in different families; (3) To map family relationships and family members as seen by parents and children in different families; and (4) To compare parent and child family networks with their presentation of their family to others outside the family, particularly in relation to the child’s school. A further aim of this project is examine whether the adoptive family relationships, and children’s and parents psychosocial adjustment similar in Portugal and in the UK. Ultimately this project intends to address the following question: Should the sexual orientation of prospective parents be factored in when deciding whether to allow couples to become parents through adoption?

Information about the first phase of the study “Empowering Adoptive Families”

can be accessed at



Crowl, A., Ahn, S., & Baker, J. (2008). A meta­analysis of developmental outcomes for children of same­sex and heterosexual parents. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 4, 385­407.

Tasker, F. L., & Golombok, S. (1997). Growing up in a lesbian family: Effects on child development. London: Guilford Press.

Tasker, F., & Patterson, C. J. (2007). Research on gay and lesbian parenting: Retrospect and prospect. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 3, 9­34.

Golombok, C., Mellish, L., Jennings, S., Casey, P., Tasker, F., & Lamb, M. F. (2014). Adoptive gay father families: Parent­child relationships and children’s psychological adjustment. Child Development, 85, 456­468.

Jennings, S., Mellish, L., Tasker, F., Lamb, M., & Golombok, S. (2014). Why adoption? Gay, lesbian, and heterosexual adoptive parents’ reproductive experiences and reasons for adoption. Adoption Quarterly, 17, 205­226.

Ray, V., & Gregory, R. (2001). School experiences of the children of lesbian and gay parents. Family Matters, 59, 28­34.

Bos, H., M. W., Gartrell, N. K., Peyser, H., & van Balen, F. (2008). The USA national longitudinal lesbian family study (NLLFS): Homophobia, psychological adjustment, and protective factors. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 12, 455­ 471.

Oswald, R. F. (2002). Resilience within the family networks of lesbians and gay men: Intentionality and redefinition. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 374-383.