The Model Standards Project: Creating Inclusive Systems for LGBT Youth in Out-of-Home Care

By Wilber, Shannan; Reyes, Carolyn et al. | Child Welfare, March/April 2006 | Go to article overview

The Model Standards Project: Creating Inclusive Systems for LGBT Youth in Out-of-Home Care


Wilber, Shannan, Reyes, Carolyn, Marksamer, Jody, Child Welfare


This article describes the Model Standards Project (MSP), a collaboration of Legal Services for Children and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. The MSP developed a set of model professional standards governing the care of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth in out-of-home care. This article provides an overview of the experiences of LGBT youth in state custody, drawing from existing research, as well as the actual experiences of youth who participated in the project or spoke with project staff. It will describe existing professional standards applicable to child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and the need for standards specifically focused on serving LGBT youth. The article concludes with recommendations for implementation of the standards in local jurisdictions.

On any given day, well over half a million children and youth nationally live away from their families and in the custody of the foster care or juvenile justice systems. It is estimated that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth represent somewhere between 4% and 10% of this population (Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, 2001; Urban Justice Center, 2001). Many young people are in out-of-home care solely as a result of their LGBT identity, including those rejected, neglected, or abused by their families of origin; those forced to live on the streets and engage in illegal behavior to survive; and those labeled "sex offenders" because their behavior is perceived as deviant or perverse.

In the past several years, the professional literature has acknowledged the presence of LGBT youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems and has begun to document the unique challenges confronting these youth. Innovative programs have been developed to serve LGBT youth in out-of-home care, although explicitly inclusive and specialized services are still rare. The literature also has begun to identify the many ways in which public systems fail LGBT youth in their care (DeCrescenzo & Mallon, 1991; DeCrescenzo & Mallon, 2000). No organized effort has taken place, however, to reach professional consensus on the standards that should govern the care and treatment of LGBT youth who rely on public systems to provide for them. Although there are well-accepted professional standards governing child welfare and juvenile justice services, these standards do not adequately address the unique needs of LGBT youth (see Standards of Excellence for Child Welfare Services, by Child Welfare League of America, www.cwla.org/programs/standards/default.htm; Standards for Health Services in Juvenile Detention and Confinement Facilities, by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, www.ncchc.org/pubs/catalog.html#34; the ABA Standards of Practice for Lawyers Who Represent Children in Abuse and Neglect Cases, by the American Bar Association, www.abanet.org/child/ catalog/books.html; and Standards for Juvenile Detention Facilities, by the American Correctional Association, www.aca.org/store/ bookstore/view.asp?Product_ID=121).

The Model Standards Project

In 2002, staff members at Legal Services for Children and the National Center for Lesbian Rights launched the Model Standards Project (MSP), a multiyear, national project to develop and disseminate model professional standards for serving LGBT youth in outof-home care (MSP has been supported at different stages by the Kevin Mossier Foundation, the Stuart Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, the Tides Foundation, and an anonymous donor). Legal Services for Children, founded in 1975, provides direct legal representation and social work services to children and youth in the San Francisco Bay Area. The service's mission is to provide free legal and social services to children and youth to stabilize their lives and help them realize their full potential (see www.lsc-sf.org). National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal resource center with a primary commitment to advancing the rights and safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through a program of litigation, public policy advocacy and public education.

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