Massachusetts youth advocates are urging state action to collect and report sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) data in order to adequately address the needs of LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system.

The renewed push for state SOGI data collection and reporting comes as the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published its final rule today removing data elements on sexual orientation in the required Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), the federally required semi-annual report on all children in foster care.

Massachusetts-based organizations GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), Citizens for Juvenile Justice (CFJJ), the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth, BUILD, a program of Roxbury YouthWorks, Inc., the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts (CLCM), SWAGLY-Supporters of Worcester Area GLBTQ+ Youth and More Than Words, issued the following statement condemning the new HHS rule and calling for immediate action to ensure data collection and reporting at the state level:

LGBTQ youth are some of the most vulnerable youth in our child welfare system. By removing sexual orientation data elements from required AFCARS reporting the federal government is abandoning its responsibility to understand and meet the needs of those youth.

The HHS rule published on May 12 is yet another attempt by the Trump administration to render the lives of LGBTQ people, including LGBTQ youth, invisible. Massachusetts can and must do better.

Nationally, LGBTQ youth, and particularly LGBTQ youth of color, are overrepresented in child welfare systems. The intersectionality of the experiences of homophobia and transphobia, racism, and abuse and neglect should generate the most heightened level of care and concern for these young people, and that starts with the collection of the data telling us who and where they are. In Massachusetts, we know that 11.3% of high school-aged youth identify as LGBTQ. All youth need and deserve culturally competent, understanding care and services. Without transparent data, collected in a culturally competent manner, it is impossible to know whether we are meeting our responsibility to LGBTQ youth in state care, and we leave those youth at substantially greater risk for negative outcomes.

As organizations working to support the wellbeing of all youth, including LGBTQ youth, in the Commonwealth, we call on state legislators, the Baker administration, and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to act to ensure data on the presence and needs of LGBTQ youth in our state child welfare system is collected, reported on, and employed to ensure appropriate programs and services. 

Sensitive, culturally competent data collection is critical to understanding the numbers, geography, and needs of vulnerable LGBTQ youth. Without an understanding of who, and where, these vulnerable young people are, we are not doing everything we must to protect and support them. Especially in light of the Trump administration’s egregious failure, Massachusetts has the power and obligation to act.  

Locally, although DCF has articulated a commitment to collecting this data, this data has not been systematically collected or reported to date. Legislation regarding DCF data collection and reporting, including H. 4163 which is currently pending before the Massachusetts House Committee on Ways and Means, should include sexual orientation and gender identity to ensure that Massachusetts is able to fully understand – and then address – disparities for LGBTQ youth in our child welfare system.

On Monday, GLAD and CFJJ sent a letter to the Committee chairs urging the adoption of amendments to H. 4163 to require DCF to collect demographic data on sexual orientation and gender identity. Click here to view the letter.