(Made possible by the generous support of the Bernard F. and Alva B. Gimbel Foundation, the Sirus Fund, our individual donors and previous funding from The New York Community Trust.)
Like all children in foster care, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (“LGBTQ”) youth are affected by the elimination of services, overburdened Family Courts, and an often dysfunctional child welfare system. Unlike other children in foster care, however, LGBTQ youth must also contend with discrimination based on sexual and/or gender identity; lack of service providers who are sensitive to the particular needs of LGBTQ youth; questions about whether to “come out” or openly acknowledge sexual or gender identity while in foster care; and difficulty finding other supportive LGBTQ youth and adults.
The objectives of LFC’s Special LGBTQ Project are to: 1) assess the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth in foster care; 2) develop and implement advocacy plans both for individual children and for system-wide improvements; 3) inform LGBTQ youth in foster care of their rights through workshops and distribution of our You Are Not Alone handbook for LGBTQ youth in foster care, which includes an updated resource guide of programs and services specifically for LGBTQ Youth.
This project is unique because it is based on the receipt of information directly from our client population and relies on young people in foster care to identify the problems in the system that are most difficult and painful for them. The project also utilizes Lawyer’s For Children’s superb social work staff to evaluate the emotional needs of LGBTQ youth in care and identify services in the community that can address these needs. Thus, the project uses Lawyers For Children’s direct service model to achieve positive individual and system-wide improvements for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in foster care. The following is just one example:
Fourteen-year-old Stephan* was placed into foster care by his mother when he informed her that he was gay. He was initially placed at an RTC, where he excelled. As a result, Stephan requested a lower level of care and a LGBTQ friendly placement, and was transferred to a group home. Shortly thereafter, Stephan began to disregard the facility’s curfew, spending as much time away from the group home as possible. Stephan reported to his LFC attorney, who is the LGBTQ Project co-director, and social worker that he had been treated disrespectfully and punitively by the foster care staff ever since he had disclosed that he now identified as a transgender female. Stephan, who now goes by the name Shardee, also reported that hormones were being sold illegally by group home staff, that she had been prevented from contacting her law guardian, and that there was often inadequate food provided for residents of the group home. Shardee requested a transfer to a trans-friendly placement.
In addition to individual advocacy, some of the project’s current activities include:
Though Shardee and her mother remained estranged, Shardee’s mother asked the court to return Shardee to her custody so that she could place her “son” in a program of her own choosing. Shardee did not want to be placed in a program chosen by her mother because her mother was unwilling to support Shardee’s transgender status. While ACS considered discharging Shardee to her mother, Shardee’s LFC attorney requested a hearing to prevent Shardee’s discharge and asked the court to order that a more appropriate placement be located expeditiously. ACS argued that there was no more appropriate placement. In response, The LFC attorney and social worker located a residential placement in Pennsylvania that would provide Shardee with a service-rich program and allow her to express her gender identity. After extensive discussions with her LFC attorney and social worker, Shardee’s mother and ACS consented to Shardee’s placement in the Pennsylvania program, obviating the need for a trial.
Since her transfer to the new placement, Shardee has consistently reported that she is very happy in her new home, where she lives as a female. Shardee reports that staff and residents are respectful of her transgender identity, that she is once again excelling in school and will be graduating from high school next year. In addition, Shardee now goes on regular visits to her mother's home, with whom she has mended her relationship.
1. Increased LGBTQ Safe/Friendly Foster Homes: LFC is working within ACS’ LGBTQ Foster Parent Action Group to advocate for a greater emphasis on the recruitment and training of LGBTQ friendly foster homes, and the proper training of foster care case workers on issues of relevance to LGBTQ youth in care. This effort also includes regular participation in the ACS sanctioned Circle of Support group for LGBTQ foster parents.
2. Increased LGBTQ Safe/Friendly Residential Placements: There is a pressing need both for more LGBTQ friendly residential placements for youth in foster care, and to make existing residences more LGBTQ supportive. There is a specific need for residential placements for lesbians, which do not currently exist, despite the existence of placements exclusively for gay male youth.
3. Possible Bias By ACS and Private Foster Care Agencies Against Prospective Gay Foster Parents: We are currently evaluating whether ACS and foster care agencies may be systematically rejecting prospective foster parents who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
4. Evaluation of New ACS Anti-Discrimination Policy: The project’s co-directors have joined a new subcommittee of the ACS LGBTQ Youth Action Group that will review the new ACS non-discrimination policy. We are currently formulating specific recommendations for implementation of the policy by ACS.
5. Treatment Guidelines for Transgender Youth in Foster Care: The project directors participate as members of the ACS LGBTQ Action Group, where they are currently formulating guidelines for the treatment of transgender youth in foster care.
Finally, the project co-directors are conducting a systematic evaluation of all programs currently identified by ACS as LGBTQ friendly.
* In order to protect the privacy of our clients, all children’s names referenced on this website are fictitious.