Times are changing in the United States. Sometimes the policies in the U.S. can feel slow or backwards at times, but for the most part, things are changing for the LGBT community in great and positive ways. One of those changes: the LGBT community and the foster care system.
Yes, 10 years ago, it was very difficult for same-sex couples to be foster parents and adopt. However, with research and a swelling LGBT rights movement, that has changed. It is quite easy for same sex couples in most (if not all) states to become foster care parents and eventually adopt.
Yet, there is an aspect of the LGBT community and the foster care system that is not often discussed: LGBTQ youth in the foster care system.
There are currently 400,000 youth in the foster care system, one-fourth of which are awaiting adoption, and each and every one of those youth deserve homes and families. According to the HRC, the “percentage of youth in foster care who are LGBTQ-identified is larger than the percentage of LGBTQ youth in the general youth population.”
Often, LGBTQ youth are in the foster care system because of their identity or sexual orientation, as they’ve been kicked out of their homes. Others were placed in the foster care system at early ages for reasons that aren’t related to their sexual orientation. Regardless, it can be a very trying time for LGBTQ youth who are in the system.
For one, like any child, they just want a family – someone to care for them, someone to love them. While hoping for a family, they may also be going through a difficult or confusing time discovering themselves and their sexuality, and may not have the support and love that they need while in the foster care system awaiting a family.
The experiences of LGBTQ youth in the foster care system are not overly positive. They often have more foster placements and live in group home settings than their non-LGBTQ counterparts.
Studies also found that:
- 78 percent of LGBTQ youth were removed or ran away from their foster placements as a result of hostility toward their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- 100 percent of LGBTQ youth in group homes reported verbal harassment.
- 70 percent of LGBTQ youth reported physical violence in group homes.
Kristopher Sharp grew up in the foster care system for 8 years. He said, “I was told that foster families didn’t want a gay kid in their home, so I grew up in group homes and residential centers where I was abused sexually, physically and emotionally.”
Furthermore, not all states provide protections for LGBTQ youth, especially not transgender youth in the foster care system. Some states like California and New York have provided transgender youth in the foster care system protections from discrimination and positive healthcare access. However, this is not common among most states. The same can be said for youth who identify as LGB. Twenty states have foster care protections that covers sexual identity (meaning 30 states do not), and only 13 of those states protect gender identity and sexual orientation. And even if a state does provide protections, LGBTQ youth will still face a fair amount of abuse or discrimination while in the foster care system.
Though same-sex or transgender prospective parents aren’t expected to foster or adopt a youth who also identifies as LGBTQ, it would be a welcoming option for social workers and foster agencies to have when placing the youth in homes and families.
Consider this: members of the LGBT community will inherently relate to and understand the similar struggles and questions that LGBTQ youth are dealing with, as many have already dealt with those questions and struggles themselves.
Similarly, we’d call on modern prospective parents who are not a part of the LGBT community but who are accepting and loving of any person regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, to consider welcoming LGBT youth into their families. The more parents who could provide love to these children, the better it will be for the next generation of the LGBT community.
When speaking with social workers, remember that there are a lot of LGBT youth in the foster care system and even if the social worker doesn’t explicitly bring up the option of LGBT youth to foster adopt, you can.
You can be the loving family that any foster care child needs, but you could also be the hero of an LGBTQ foster child who is in a unfair system by becoming their parent.