LGBTQ Youth in Care: Information & Resources

While it is difficult to determine the precise number of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth in the foster care system, it is estimated that they comprise at least 5 to 10 percent of the total foster care population. LGBTQ youth come into the system for a variety of reasons, some having to do with their sexual orientation or gender expression, some not. Regardless of how many of these youth are in care or why they came into care, the child welfare system has a mandate, as it does with any child in foster care, to ensure their opportunities for safety, permanency, and well being as required by the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997.

The experiences of LGBTQ youth in general and LGBTQ youth in foster care specifically, highlight the need for education, training, and resources for working with this population. Below are a few facts and statistics from the available research.

Safety

  • Many LGBTQ youth face neglect or abuse from their families of origin because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. One study found that over 30% of LGBTQ youth reported suffering physical violence at the hands of a family member after coming out.1
  • In terms of sexual orientation: 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed, and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.2
  • In terms of gender expression: 63.7% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.2% reported being physically harassed, and 12.5% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.3
  • 74% of transgender youth reported being sexually harassed at school, and 90% of transgender youth reported feeling unsafe at school because of their gender expression.4
  • As a result of lack of acceptance and abuse in the home and at school, a disproportionate number of youth living on the streets are LGBT. The National Network of Runaway and Youth Services estimates that between 20-40% of homeless youth are LGBT.5

Permanency

  • Many LGBTQ youth — 26% according to one study — are forced to leave their families of origin as a result of conflicts with their parents regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity.6
  • When LGBTQ youth are harassed or discriminated against, some foster care facilities sometimes respond by moving the LGBTQ youth to another — often more restrictive — facility or isolating them rather than addressing the underlying homophobia or transphobia.7
  • One study found that 78% of LGBTQ youth were removed or ran away from their foster placements as a result of hostility toward their sexual orientation or gender identity.8
  • The few studies that have focused on permanency outcomes for this group of young people in foster care have found that LGBTQ youth often are not reunited with their birth families and that they often lack permanent connections to their communities and families of origin.9

Well Being

  • LGB young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse, compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.10
  • 33.2% of transgender youth have attempted suicide.11
  • 29.1 percent of LGBT students missed a class and 30 percent missed a day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe in their school. LGBT who experienced more frequent harassment had lower grade point averages than those who were harassed less frequently.12 Another study found that 28% of LGB youth dropped out of school due to peer harassment.13
  • Research suggests that LGBTQ youth in foster care need a range of physical and mental health services as well as educational supports and services, but that they confront barriers in accessing these services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.14, 15

Endnotes

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Resources:

Getting Down to Basics
Tools for Working With LGBTQ Youth in Care An online tool kit that provides information to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth in the foster care system receive the support and services they need and deserve. Developed in partnership by the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) and Lambda Legal, the tool kit gives guidance on an array of issues affecting LGBTQ youth and the adults and organizations who provide them with out-of-home care.

The Opening Doors Project
A website through the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law that provides information to increase the legal community’s awareness of LGBTQ youth in foster care and the unique issues they face, and advocacy tools to successfully represent these youth.

The Family Acceptance Project
The Family Acceptance Project™ (FAP) is a community research, intervention, and education initiative that studies the impact of family acceptance and rejection on the health, mental health, and well being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth and is developing a new research-based family-related approach to promote well being among LGBT children and adolescents.

Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network Homepage
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. This website includes tools and tips for educators, students, and supporters to create safe educational environments for all young people.

ACF Information Memorandum (IM) on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth in Foster Care.  The purpose of this IM is to encourage child welfare agencies, foster and adoptive parents and others who work with young people in foster care to ensure that all children are protected and supported while they are in foster care.

NRCPFC Hot Topic Webpage on LGBTQ Children and Youth in Child Welfare.  The National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections offers resources from the Administration for Children and Families, the Children's Bureau, T/TA Network, Collaborating Organizations and States.