May 15, 2018
Earlier this month, Mary Bonauto and I were invited to speak on a panel about LGBTQ youth at a Maine Judicial Conference in Lewiston, for all persons involved in “child protection” cases. Over 400 judges, lawyers, GALs (guardians appointed by the court to represent the child’s interest) and child protection workers gathered for two days of trainings on best practices in child protection.
What is “child protection” and how does it connect to LGBTQ youth?
The “child protection” or child welfare system is intended to protect youth from abuse and neglect. LGBTQ youth are disproportionately represented in that system. Some youth enter the child welfare system due to rejection from their families of origin; others have supportive families of origin and are in the system due to other challenges facing their caregivers. LGBTQ adults are also clients of this system – as parents and caregivers dealing with allegations of abuse or neglect, or as adults serving as foster or pre-adoptive parents. The child welfare system touches so many LGBTQ lives and communities.
At GLAD we are concerned with ensuring both the wellbeing of LGBTQ youth within the system, and fair treatment of LGBTQ parents as well as parents who support their LGBTQ children and whose fitness is challenged on that basis.
Our panel, LGBTQ Considerations in Child Protection Law, was moderated by the Honorable Ellen Gorman of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, and joining us on the panel was a youth from the Maine Youth Leadership Advisory Team (YLAT), parent attorney and GAL Zachary Paakkonen, and Assistant Attorney General Lise Wagner. Mary and I talked about LGBTQ youth 101, with terms, highlights of youth legal rights in Maine, and realities and risk factors for LGBTQ youth in child welfare systems.
What were some of the key take aways from our presentation for professionals serving LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system in Maine?
- From the Maine Human Rights Act to the Maine Anti-Bullying Law to Federal and State constitutional protections, advocates should stand up for the youth in their care and access the robust laws protecting LGBTQ youth in Maine.
- Every professional working with youth – judges, court staff, lawyers, guardians ad litem and social workers – have ethical obligations to work with youth in an unbiased and nondiscriminatory manner.
- LGBTQ youth are everywhere in Maine – according to the 2017 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, 10.8% of high school youth in Maine identify as LGB and 1.5% identify as transgender.
- LGBTQ youth in Maine are vulnerable to bias, discrimination, bullying, and family rejection. According to the 2015 GLSEN Maine School Climate Snapshot, 66% of LGBTQ students in Maine reported being harassed or assaulted because of their sexual orientation. And, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey results from Maine, 80% of transgender youth in Maine schools experienced mistreatment. These unique risk factors for LGBTQ youth lead to their over-representation in the child welfare system.
Adults serving LGBTQ youth have the unique opportunity to have a concrete, positive impact on the lives of LGBTQ youth by:
- Recognizing that every youth has a sexual orientation and a gender identity
- Understanding that being LGBTQ isn’t a choice or something that youth can change
- Acknowledging that any youth they serve may be LGBTQ
- Educating themselves on LGBTQ issues and resources, including the unique harms LGBTQ youth face
- Communicating to all youth that they are an LGBTQ ally
- Using open and inclusive language
- Learning and using chosen names and pronouns
- Respecting privacy and confidentiality
- Listening to youth and advocating for their individual needs
As the YLAT youth so eloquently said at the event, adults need to listen, be themselves, find common ground with youth and build relationships.
Below are resources in Maine and nationally for LGBTQ youth and supportive adults. If you require legal assistance or information, we’re here for you. Contact us at GLAD Answers, our legal information line, at 800-455-GLAD or visit www.GLADAnswers.org.
MAINE LGBTQ RESOURCES
NATIONAL LGBTQ RESOURCES
Visit Resources for Youth in Maine for a full list of resources both in Maine and nationally.