Addressing the Needs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth Involved with the Child Welfare System

When it comes to sexual orientation or gender identity, children and youth outside the perceived norm face significant risks to their safety, health and well-being.

A recent survey of more than 10,000 LGBTQ* young people ages 13-17, conducted by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy organization based in Washington, DC, found that LGBTQ youth are more than twice as likely as heterosexual (or “straight”) youth to be harassed or bullied at school. They are also at significantly higher risk for alcohol, drug and tobacco abuse.

While straight youth reported classes, grades, college, career and finances as their most pressing concerns, LGBTQ youth identified their biggest challenges as non-accepting families, being bullied at school and fear of being open about who they are. One third of the survey’s respondents said that their families were not accepting of their sexual orientation or gender identity.**

Research by Dr. Caitlin Ryan, Director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, demonstrates that a family’s acceptance or rejection of their LGBTQ children is the single most important influence on their future health and well-being.

When compared to LGBTQ youth with loving, accepting families, children whose families are severely rejecting of their sexual orientation or gender identity are three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and contract HIV, and are more than eight times more likely to attempt or commit suicide.***

The risks for LGBTQ youth in foster care are even more pronounced. A report entitled Out of the Margins: A Report Highlighting the Experiences of LGBTQ Youth in Care by the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), the nation’s largest association of child welfare providers, contains hundreds of quotations illustrating their experiences in foster care such as:

  • “I got jumped by a bunch of guys in my group home and when I told the director he said, ‘Well if you weren’t a faggot they wouldn’t beat you up’,”
  • “My foster family took away my clothes, called me a dyke and tried to remake me,”
  • “I was assaulted a lot and I didn’t appreciate that I had to take it.”****

But despite these risks, a tremendous amount of work has been done, and continues to be done, in order to help LGBTQ youth in foster care grow into happy, healthy adults.

National child welfare organizations such as CWLA, the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), National Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and the federal Children’s Bureau and Administration for Children and Families continue to work closely with national LGBT organizations like HRC, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Lambda Legal to provide training, resources and other forms of support to child welfare agencies throughout the nation.

Comprehensive training curricula like those offered by HRC’s All Children All Families project, give child welfare professionals and care givers the understanding, skills and tools they need in order to ensure the safety, health and well-being of LGBTQ youth.

In Kansas City, Midwest Foster Care and Adoption Association (MFCAA) is proud to be leading the way toward better outcomes for LGBTQ youth in care. As Missouri’s first All Children All Families credentialed agency, MFCAA is working to ensure that these children, like all children, find the acceptance and stability of loving, permanent families.

*Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) and questioning (Q) sexual orientation or gender identity
** Growing up Gay in America (2012), Human Rights Campaign
*** Ryan, C. (2009). Helping Families Support Their Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Children. Washington, DC: National Center for Cultural Competence, Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development.
****Woronoff, R., Estrada, R., Sommer, S;. et al (2006). Out of the Margins: A Report Highlighting the Experiences of LGBTQ Youth in Care, CWLA press.


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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at jsykes@hcfgkc.org.

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