Issues of Shared Parenting of LGBTQ Children and Youth in Foster Care: Preparing Foster Parents for New Roles

By Craig-Oldsen, Heather; Craig, J. Ann et al. | Child Welfare, March/April 2006 | Go to article overview

Issues of Shared Parenting of LGBTQ Children and Youth in Foster Care: Preparing Foster Parents for New Roles


Craig-Oldsen, Heather, Craig, J. Ann, Morton, Thomas, Child Welfare


Foster parents have increasingly assumed new and challenging roles during the past decade. Meeting the developmental, attachment, and grieving needs of children and youth in out of home care is challenging by itself, but can become even more difficult with the issues that arise when the child is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ). Preservice and in-service foster parent training programs can strengthen shared parenting skills by focusing on the universal critical issues of safety, well being, and permanence for children and youth in foster care. This article will focus on these skill areas: (1) sharing parenting to promote healthy growth and development of LGBTQ youth in foster care, (2) threats to safety of LGBTQ youth in foster care, and (3) general challenges and strategies for preparing foster parents of LGBTQ youth to build support systems.

Shared parenting describes the nature of the relationship between many foster parents and birthparents of children and youth in foster care. Challenges or problems with shared parenting may include disagreements about discipline, confused children if there are mixed messages from adults, disapproval of birth or foster parent's lifestyle, difficulty with new spouses or partners, and general miscommunication. Additional challenges may arise because of the issues surrounding LGBTQ youth in foster care. For example, birthparents may be angry or disappointed about their child being LGBTQ, or they may resent the ability of the foster parent to develop a relationship with the LGBTQ youth. Regrettably, staff may not support shared parenting or alliance building because of their own inexperience, bias, or fear, especially of LGBTQ issues. Sometimes parents' or child welfare workers' religious beliefs are challenged, creating resentment and anger.

Despite the challenges of sharing parenting of LGBTQ youth in foster care, there are ample benefits. For example, if the youth presents behavioral health challenges, shared parenting provides an opportunity to normalize the challenges faced by the birthparents. If a young person experiences behavior management problems, several parents working together with the youth may develop more effective behavior management plans. Most important, shared parenting helps minimize "triangulation" and manipulation by the youth.

Understanding child development enhances parenting, but unique issues arise when widely accepted theories of child development, frequently used in foster parent training programs, do not necessarily factor in LGBTQ youth. Many training curricula use Erik Erikson's (1950) stages of development as an information base. Erikson studied and wrote at a time when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues were not included in discussion of normal healthy development. Consequently, his research is heterocentric, meaning that Erikson presumes all healthy children and youth are heterosexual.

For example, the first stage in Erickson's stages of development is "trust verses mistrust." This stage provides the key in the development of the human being and is critically important to explore when considering the attachment needs of children and youth in out of home care. Infants learn about trust during their first two years of life. Children and youth who have shaky foundations may have gaps in their development as they grow. A young person in foster care can be chronologically 16 years old, but because of earlier sexual abuse may look physically younger or older, be younger intellectually, be older socially, and be much younger emotionally. Children and youth who have been abused and neglected do not grow and develop the same way other children do. Consequently, their needs are different from children who have not been abused or neglected. LGBTQ children may or may not be subject to various forms of abuse, but trust in family members, authority figures, or even themselves can be jeopardized by perceptions of being different or being treated differently at any point during development. …

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