Academic journal article Child Welfare

Gender Diversity and Child Welfare Research: Empirical Report and Implications of the Los Angeles County Foster Youth Study

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Gender Diversity and Child Welfare Research: Empirical Report and Implications of the Los Angeles County Foster Youth Study

Article excerpt

Facilitating and supporting transitions from foster care to permanent safe and loving homes is the ultimate goal of child welfare agencies (Children's Bureau, 2016). Several factors affecting permanent placements into homes (i.e., "permanency") have been studied. While many studies have examined the relationship between permanency outcomes and key demographic variables such as gender, race, and health (Reilly, 2003; Chamberlain & Reid, 1994; Needell et al., 2003), few have assessed patterns related to the intersection of such social identities and health statuses. Further, to our knowledge, no studies have examined sex/gender1 differences based on various gender definitions and with attention to sexual and gender identities, including youth in foster care who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ).

Theoretical Framework and Background

We take the perspective that gender is simultaneously a core and persistent aspect of one's self in the United States and yet socially constructed (Stryker, 2008). Moreover, we assume gender to be an umbrella concept of multiple elements, including social identification, expression, perceptions of one's gender and sex, and relationships between the physiological and psychological sense of self. Given this, we aim to unpack the diversity in gender representation among youth in foster care. Further, we draw on minority stress theory (Meyer, 2003; Gordon & Meyer, 2007), ecological theory (Kelly, 1967), and intersectionality (Crenshaw, Ocen & Nanda, 2015; Richie, 1996), which collectively indicate that individual behavior and outcomes among stigmatized groups in the United States are largely a function of oppression(s), directly through reduced resources and violence or indirectly through the psychological response to discrimination.

A high proportion of youth in out-of-home care face various risks to achieving permanency, including experiences with violence and discrimination, homelessness, and involvement with state-level institutions such as the juvenile justice system and hospitals (JonsonReid & Barth, 2000; Barth, 1990; Irvine & Canfield, 2016; Herz et al., 2012). Studies find sex/gender is not a strong predictor in achieving permanency (Alber et al., 1993; Palmer, 1996; James et al., 2004), though sex/gender affect foster care experiences (Baynes-Dunning & Worthington, 2013; Rubin et al, 2004). We did not find studies examining subgroups of sex/gender, but several studies have assessed risks to permanency by LGBTQ identity (Russell & Joyner, 2001; Mallon et al, 2002). Youth who are LGBTQ and in foster care are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to have a higher number of child welfare placements, experience homelessness, and be at risk of health issues (Wilson & Kastankis, 2015). Irvine and Canfield (2016) also included youth who were gender nonconforming in their analysis, finding those who were LGBTQand gender nonconforming in juvenile detention facilities were more likely to experience placement in out-of-home care compared to their peers who were straight cisgender or gender conforming. To our knowledge, there are no studies examining youth who are transgender, separate from those who are LGBQ in child welfare.

Though existing literature provides knowledge of youth experiencing foster care by sex/gender or sexual and gender minority statuses, it overlooks various dimensions of gender that may more accurately reflect youth experiences. This article's objective is to describe the gender diversity among youth in foster care by assessing gender identity (one's inner concept of self as man, woman, both, or neither), gender expression (the ways in which people externally communicate their gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, haircut, voice, and other forms of presentation), and sex assigned at birth (classification of sex made at birth) by LGBTQ status. We also document areas where gender diversity is relevant to permanency outcomes. …

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