Of Arizona’s Department of Child Safety (DCS) 19,000 children in foster care, it’s estimated that 10 percent are LGBT. One foster group home is taking on a pilot program by taking only LGBT teens.
In Laveen, Ariz., Jennifer Redmond runs a group where only LGBT foster teens live. It’s been open for nine months.
“We really work on understand definitions, understand what LGBT means, so that our staff understand pronouns, things that kids would like to be called,” Redmond said. “A lot of kids won’t identify themselves, because of either where they’re placed or fear so it’s really finding those kids and identifying them and then bringing them here.”
Eighteen-year-old Adrian Garcia identifies as transgender and entered foster care four years ago. He was in 14 different places before coming to Redmond’s group home.
“Ultimately when I was at a place that didn’t accept or approve of my identity, I would get really depressed,” Garcia said. “I did not get to tell my mother that I was transgender, my caseworker took that away from me and it just makes me really mad when I think about it now.”
Meghan Arrigo at Children’s Action Alliance said that while the estimated amount of LGBT youth in the foster care system is nationally at 10 percent, she thinks it’s probably much higher.
“We may not, as a child welfare agency, be screening adequately or asking the right questions when those youth come into care,” she said. “So I think there’s probably a lot of youth that are flying under the radar.”
She said that caseworkers who may have 60-80 teens, which can be a problem.
“Young people want to have a relationship with their caseworker,” Arrigo said. “Those are the folks who are making decisions about where they’re going to be placed, who they’re going to be living with. So if you don’t know your caseworker and they don’t know you, it’s really hard to find an appropriate placement.”
Barb Nasco with the Foster Children Rights Coalition hopes to have every DCS employee trained in LGBT-specific cultural competency within three years.
“This is a very pervasive issue and it can’t just be fixed in one place,” Nasco said. “It’s gotta really address all the professionals as well as the foster parents.”