Geismar couple advocate for foster care equality

Leslie D. Rose @Editor_Citizen

     When wedding bells ring in April, one Geismar couple will make Ascension Parish history, as the first gay male couple to be certified as foster parents in the parish.

     With marriage equality in Louisiana still less than one year old, Michael Vice and Brian Walker are not only making history – they’re also ensuring other couples like them have smooth transitions into foster parenthood. The two have created the organzaition,  Fostering Equality, to support potential foster parents who may face similar inequality issues.

     Fostering Equality began with the prospect of serving as an outlet and an advocate for the LGBT community members considering the rewards of fostering children in need of good homes, according to the organization’s website.

     “When you walk into a situation – you have no idea what to expect, especially when you’re the only one,” Vice said. “And we didn’t have all of the information. We did it all for the right reasons, but we didn’t really think once we started the process that we may be a little bit different that what they’re typically acustomed to as foster parents.”

     Prior to marriage equality, DCFS certified only one adult in the household as it relates to same sex couples. The other adult needed to be listed as a household member, but required to participate in all certification steps, said Tina Vial, Child Welfare Supervisor for the Thibodaux Region DCFS, which includes Ascension Parish.  

     The certification of both members of a same sex marriage has only been in effect since July 2015.

     “We were the first gay male couple in our parish to foster children,” Vice said. “We remain the only gay males in our parish certified to foster, and we are one of the few gay male couples in our entire district to serve this need – it surprises us [because] our area has so many potential homes.” 

     The need is in fact quite high, according to Vial. As of Feb. 4, 471 children are in foster care in the Thibodaux Region, with only 130 families certified to foster.

     Prior to July 2015, gay and lesbian couples seeking to foster could meet all of the qualifications, but not legally be permitted to foster as a couple. The qualifications include being age 21 or over, single, married, divorced, or widowed, financially stable good physical, emotional and mental health, possession of adequate space in home for additional child, passing of state and federal criminal clearances, 21 hours of pre-service training and participation in a home study process.

     The rules never stated anything about a couple’s sexual orientation – in fact, sexual orientation had not been an issue in the past. According to Vial, the non-certification of gay and lesbian couples is in regards to same sex marriage having been illegal in Louisiana, members of LGBT community could be certified as individuals. According to Vice, as with anything new, many issues still plague the marriage equality community.      

     “We deal with different challenges and scenarios that aren’t always typical with other foster families that have support groups in place, and because of that, basically I’m just trying to connect everybody together,” Vice said. “At the same time, I’m just trying to keep connected with the support groups that they do have  and assist them as well.”

     Vice said that the main purpose of Fostering Equality is to make sure that all foster families feel represented.

     Vice and Walker decided to become foster parents at the top of 2014, after years of caring for Walker’s biological child and Vice’s nephew. Once the nephew had gone back to live with his mother and Walker’s son grew into a teenager, the two felt unfulfilled.

      “That’s when we decided that we really wanted to help families in need,” Vice said. “We could have gone a different route, but we figured ‘let’s do something that has the most impact.’ The more we looked into it, the more we realized that there are a lot of children of a certain age range that weren’t getting fostered as easy as others, so we opened up our age range so that we could foster children that would have a very difficult time finding a home.”

     Vice and Walker foster two children.

     “It is time to show support for one another in a respectable cause such as fostering,” Vice said. “It is our hope that our organization will serve the LGBT community, the foster community and the children in need by coordinating our efforts towards one goal – the well being of these children.”

     Individuals desiring to become a foster/adoptive parent with the State of Louisiana, DCFS can visit or call (800) 748-7755.