Improving Practice with LGBT Youth and Families

By Tobias, Colette | Children's Voice, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Improving Practice with LGBT Youth and Families


Tobias, Colette, Children's Voice


Increasingly, child welfare professionals are paying attention to the unique needs and challenges faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. Numerous resources (see www.hrc.org/ acaf-resources) are available on best practices for serving this population from leading organizations including the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). Bryan Samuels, the former commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, stressed the need to improve practice with LGBT youth in his information memorandum in April 2011, calling on us to ensure that LGBT young people in foster care are protected and supported.

LGBT youth in foster care face unique challenges in accessing supportive, culturally competent services, as well as in achieving permanent placements with affirming families. Many of these youth have experienced rejection or abuse from their family of origin because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression. Far too many then face harassment or discrimination in congregate care, foster homes, and from their direct service providers. One study found that 78 % of LGBT youth were removed or ran away from their foster care placements due to hostility toward their LGBT status (Feinstein et al., 2001). That same study found that 100% reported verbal harassment in group homes, with 70% reporting physical violence. Given this reality, LGBT youth may not disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity for fear of being mistreated or losing an opportunity for a placement. LGBT youth often face longer periods in temporary care and multiple disruptions when resource families are not prepared to provide support.

Despite the heightened awareness, many child welfare agencies struggle to create a culture of respect and inclusion and provide training for their staff to build the skills needed for working effectively with LGBT youth and their caregivers. In addition, many agencies do not yet adequately recruit and screen resource families with regard to their ability and willingness to support and affirm an LGBT youth who may be placed with them, nor do they provide education and training on this topic in the pre-service and postpermanency programs.

The same can be said for LGBT foster and adoptive parents, an often untapped resource when striving to find permanent families for children and youth awaiting placements. An estimated 2 million LGBT adults are interested in adopting in the United States (Gates et al., 2007); however, only one in five adoption agencies conducts outreach and recruitment within the LGBT community (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2003). By better serving LGBT resource families and effectively recruiting and retaining these families, it is possible to greatly expand the pool of potential families for children. It is with this goal in mind that New Jersey's Department of Children and Families came to the All Children - All Families project.

All Children-All Families, a project of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, provides a framework for agencies to achieve safety, permanency, and well-being by improving their practice with LGBT youth and families. Participating agencies work to meet ten key Benchmarks of LGBT Cultural Competency- from client non-discrimination policies and inclusive agency paperwork, to staff training, to creating an LGBT-inclusive agency environment.

Once these benchmarks are met, the agency is designated a "Leader in Supporting and Serving LGBT Youth and Families" and awarded the All Children-All Families Seal of Recognition. This seal can be used to enhance an agency's outreach and recruitment within the LGBT community. …

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