There's a widespread belief that children in the foster care system carry behavioral baggage. More than six in 10 Americans believe these children are more likely than others to exhibit behavioral problems. Fewer, but still significant numbers, see other problems: percent believe foster kids are more likely to have learning difficulties, and 47 percent believe they're more likely to have problems with drugs or alcohol.
Whites are more likely than nonwhites to believe foster care children have these problems, but overall, these assessments don't seem to affect Americans' willingness to become foster parents. Those who believe these children are more likely than others to have behavioral problems are just as likely as those who say there's no difference to consider becoming a foster parent.
One of the complexities in foster care policy is the underlying goal for the children: Reunification with rehabilitated parents or permanent placements with other care givers. Americans divide on this core question -- 50 percent say reunification should be the primary objective, while 44 percent say it's to find a permanent alternative.
In fact, the goals differ case by case. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 48 percent of foster care cases are targeted for reunification, 20 percent for adoption, 8 percent for placement with a relative or guardian, 8 percent for foster care and 6 percent for emancipation. Ten percent are undetermined.
The two in 10 children in foster care classified as having adoption as a goal means there's a significant need for prospective parents. And, there's a growing national debate about gay and lesbian adoption.
At least 16 states are considering new laws this year that ban gay adoption (Florida, Mississippi and Utah already have bans in place). In this poll, Americans divide right down the middle on the issue: Forty-nine percent favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, 48 percent are opposed. Support has grown over the years from, for example, 14 percent in 1977 and 35 percent in 1998.
Women are far more supportive than men of gay adoption, 56 percent to 42 percent, and there's a large partisan divide on the issue, with more than half of Democrats and Independents in favor but more than six in 10 Republicans opposed.
Support for gay adoption is highest in the more liberal Northeast, 63 percent, and lowest in the more conservative South, 41 percent. Part of the divide is religious: percent of those with no professed religion support gay adoption, compared with only 24 percent of evangelical white Protestants.
There's also a generational gap on the issue: Fifty-five percent of those under age 45 favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, compared with 43 percent of those 45 and older.
METHODOLOGY This ABC News/Time magazine poll was conducted by telephone May 10-14, 2006, among a random national sample of 1,000 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.
To see the complete results of this poll, click here.
For other ABC News polls, click here.