Introduction The changing nature of the 'family' in the UK over the last quarter of a century has had a profound effect on social work with children and young people. In particular, it has had a considerable impact on fostering and adoption practice in relation to those deemed suitable to care for separated children. This article explores the changes surrounding the acceptability of lesbian and gay adoption and fostering from the early 1980s to the present day. It draws on the literature and documents in the public domain, as well as on the authors' practice experience. In setting out to explore this often controversial topic, we are mindful that social work practice is located in a social, political and historical context and that an understanding of this is crucial because knowledge about the past enables us to interpret the present and plan for the future. We shall look at the 1979-97 Conservative Government's preoccupation with the social and political position of lesbians and gay men. This is demonstrated in the debates surrounding various pieces of legislation and the law reviews relating to the care of children and the right of lesbians and gay men to parent (Embryology and Fertilisation Act 1990; Adoption Law Review; Family Placement Guidance 1991; Local Government Act 1988).