By Gail Hairston
(Nov. 6, 2015) — The publisher of the National Council on Family Relations’ scholarly journals, John Wiley & Sons, recently announced the winners of the 2015 Alexis Walker Award for the best paper in the field of family studies published in 2013 and 2014. University of Kentucky assistant professor of psychology Rachel H. Farr and University of Virginia professor of psychology Charlotte J. Patterson were recognized for their work, “Co-parenting Among Lesbian, Gay, and Heterosexual Couples: Associations with Adopted Children’s Outcomes,” published in Child Development, July/August 2013, Volume 84. The award comes with a $5,000 honorarium and will be presented at the National Council on Family Relations Conference on Nov. 12 in Vancouver.
Farr and Patterson’s work is particularly innovative in addressing an underrepresented and “double minority” population of sexual minority adoptive parent families. It was the first study of family interaction to include lesbian, gay and heterosexual couples and their young adopted children. The study was pioneering in its sample, methodology and findings, revealing that aspects of co-parenting were more important correlates of child outcomes than parental sexual orientation. These findings contributed important information about how co-parenting shapes child development in diverse families.
Farr and Patterson’s research results are relevant to legal and policy controversies about adoption by lesbian and gay adults in the U.S. and around the world. Such questions arise in the context of debates about marriage as well as adoption.
Their research has been cited in amicus briefs filed by the American Psychological Association (APA) and other professional organizations, notably for three cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court: Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013), and U.S. v. Windsor (2013). Their research was also cited in 15 other amicus briefs filed by APA in related U.S. Circuit Court cases.
Their work has also been included in legal cases taking place in Italy, Switzerland and Malta. Their findings are central to current international controversies surrounding marriage and parenthood, given that children adopted by lesbian and gay parents were found to fare as well as those adopted by heterosexual couples and that same-sex couples show some distinctive patterns of interaction that could benefit children.
There are many opinions held by the public about such adoptions, but Farr and Patterson’s research is among the very few empirical studies to develop a solid scientific underpinning for understanding these children and families. Their work provides information that no one else has about how children fare in these diverse adoptive families. Farr and Patterson’s work has been widely cited in academic circles and was highlighted in the Huffington Post. Farr’s interview with New England Public Radio was aired on NPR’s “Fresh Air” and “Morning Edition.”