LGBTQ+ Youth in Foster Care
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According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau, there are more than 400,000 children and youth in foster care in the United States.
While data on the sexual orientation and gender identity of foster youth has been limited, the research that does exist has consistently shown that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ+) youth are over-represented in foster care. A study done in New York City demonstrated that more than one out of three youths (34.1%), ages 13-20, in foster care are LGBTQ+ (Sandfort, 2020). This proves significant compared to the 11.2 percent of LGBTQ+ youth in the general population.
Bias and Discrimination
In addition to this, LGBTQ+ youth in foster care are at risk of facing bias and discrimination. Studies have revealed several disparities in the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth in foster care compared to their non-LGBTQ+ peers. These disparities included a higher average number of foster care placements and a higher likelihood of living in a group home setting (Jacobs & Freundlich, 2006). Considering the intersectionality of identities held by these LGBTQ+ youth, they may also experience discrimination on the basis of race, class, disability, etc.
The unfortunate and unacceptable reality is that LGTBQ+ youth often experience maltreatment from their families and care givers. Then, they enter a foster care system that is unequipped to provide them with a safe environment, and often subjects them to further discrimination. It has been shown that LGBTQ+ youth in foster care often experience further verbal harassment or even physical violence after they are placed in out-of-home care (Feinstein et al., 2001).
A recent report of findings from a survey of LGBTQ+ youth ages 13 to 17 also found that approximately one in four identified nonaccepting families as the most important challenge in their lives (Youth.gov, 2020).
At EVOLVE Family Services, we have implemented policy, and follow MN Statute, regarding actively supporting LGBTQ+ youth. Relevant statute is as follows:
- Licensed foster parents are required by statute to “actively support the child’s racial or ethnic background, culture, and religion, and respect the child’s sexual orientation.” (Family Foster Care Licensing Rule 2960.3000, Subp. 4E).
- Furthermore, they are statutorily required to “nurture children, be mature and demonstrate an ability to comply with the foster child’s care plan and meet the needs of foster children in the applicants care.” (Family Foster Care Licensing Rule 2960.3000, Subp. 4J).
LGBTQ+ youth in foster care need nurturing homes where they feel safe and affirmed. They deserve the chance to grow in a loving, permanent home. Child welfare agencies and those that work in the foster care system must work harder to include LGBTQ+ issues in foster parent training, and to place LGBTQ+ youth in safe homes.
However, all of us can do our part to improve the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth— both in and out of America’s foster care system.
Actions you can take:
- Contact your policymakers, at both the local and state level, and urge them to protect LGBTQ+ youth and adults from discrimination in the foster care system by passing non-discrimination laws or policies that include both sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Read and share the Family Acceptance Project’s research on the importance of family acceptance and the impact a family’s response has on the health and well-being of youth.
- Learn more about LGBTQ+ youth and issues around sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
- Educate yourself about LGBTQ+ history, issues, and resources.
- Consider volunteering as a mentor for youth in your community.
- Donate to the Anne McManus Fund, which supports the supplemental needs of children in foster care.
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2021). Foster care statistics 2019. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau.
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2021). Supporting LGBTQ+ youth: A guide for foster parents. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau.
Feinstein R., Greenblatt A., Hass L., Kohn S., & Rana J. (2001). Justice for All? A Report on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Youth in the New York Juvenile Justice System. New York City: Urban Justice Center.
Human Rights Campaign. (2015, May 15). LGBTQ YOUTH IN THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM.
Jacobs, J.; Freundlich, M. (2006) Achieving Permanency for LGBTQ Youth. Child Welfare, 85(2), 299-316.
Sandfort, T. (2020). Experiences and well-being of sexual and gender diverse youth in foster care in New York City: Disproportionality and disparities. https://www1.nyc. gov/assets/acs/pdf/about/2020/ WellBeingStudyLGBTQ.pdf
Youth.gov. (2020). Families. Families | Youth.gov. https://youth.gov/youth-topics/lgbtq youth/families.