Overview

This is cross-posted in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children & Families The Family Room blog. See the original post here.

By Tyler Hatch, Truman-Albright Fellow, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation and Catherine Heath, Child and Family Program Specialist, Children’s Bureau

A recent brief from the Permanency Innovations Initiative (PDF, 10 pages) highlights how research is helping us to better understand the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth in child welfare settings. The brief presents findings from qualitative interviews conducted with youth participating in the Recognize, Intervene, Support, and Empower (RISE) project, funded through a grant from the Children’s Bureau to the Los Angeles LGBT Center. The RISE project is designed to address the barriers to permanency experienced by LGBTQ youth in foster care. During interviews, youth indicated they needed support with general needs, help communicating with their families, and improving connections with the larger LGBTQ community. Youth discussed positive outcomes from their time participating with RISE— including the ability to realize, define, or express their LGBTQ identity, increased self-acceptance and self-confidence, and a broader support network.

“This new brief brings to life the experiences of LGBTQ youth who are unfortunately growing-up in LA’s foster care system. We hear directly from young people about how important it is to have open and accepting caseworkers and other supportive adults. These words illustrate why we must continue striving to ensure that our nation’s foster care system provides a safe haven for every child, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Commissioner Rafael López of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families.

A survey conducted as part of the RISE Project (PDF, 82 pages) found that 1 in 5 youth living in foster care in Los Angeles County identify as LGBTQ. The finding is twice the estimated percentage of youth not in foster care who are LGBTQ. Generally, LGBTQ youth in foster care mirror the racial/ethnic demographic of all youth in foster care in Los Angeles County. The majority of LGBTQ are people of color: over 86 percent are Latino, Black, or Asian/ Pacific Islander. LGBTQ youth in foster care are twice as likely to report poor treatment and more likely to live in group homes and to have more foster care placements. More than 18 percent of all respondents reported experiencing discrimination related to their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, some of whom don’t identify as LGBTQ. The percentage of LGBTQ youth who were hospitalized for an emotional reason (13.5 percent) was nearly triple the percentage of similar hospitalizations for non-LGBTQ youth (4.2 percent).

However, the number and proportion of LGBTQ youth in foster care remains unknown in nearly all states and localities.1 To help address this gap, ACF’s Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) conducted a multi-year project that identified the knowledge base and research needs related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) populations. The project examined how LGBT populations interact with child welfare programs and youth programs, including programs for runaway and homeless youth.

Additional research is needed (PDF, 8 pages) to better understand the needs of LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system. The RISE youth surveys (part of a larger evaluation of RISE currently being conducted by OPRE) provide one example of current research to better understand the needs of LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system and to inform program development aimed at meeting those needs.

1 Burwick, Andrew, Scott Baumgartner, and Gary Gates. (2015). Human Services for Low-Income and At-Risk LGBT Populations: Research Recommendations on Child Welfare Programs. OPRE Report Number 2015-17. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.