Taking Critical Action for LGBTQ+ Youth in Child Welfare Systems
LGBTQ+ youth and particularly Black, Brown, and Indigenous (BIPOC) youth are over-represented in child welfare systems, and young people impacted by these systems face increased risks of joblessness, homelessness, and interaction with the criminal legal system.
Poverty, structural racism, and anti-LGBTQ bias all play roles in determining which children and families are impacted and separated by the State. GLAD is working both to ensure our child welfare systems can meet the needs of BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth in their care and to move State approaches away from family separation and toward family supports.
In Maine this session, GLAD supported a bill to require the Department of Health and Human Services to provide families in need with assistance to meet basic necessities to prevent children from being removed from homes. This proposal recognizes that what is frequently labeled as “neglect” and therefore cause for family separation is simply poverty and requires the State to address that underlying cause before removing a child. While LD 396, unfortunately, did not pass this session, we’re continuing to push for such changes so that resources are focused on supporting children and families rather than separating them.
In Massachusetts, child welfare advocates, including GLAD, have been calling for change at the MA Department of Children and Families (DCF) for years in response to high-profile catastrophic incidents and daily failings of the youth in DCF custody.
In August, with the contributions and engagement of GLAD, the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ+ Youth released a report on the treatment and outcomes of DCF-involved children that draws a plain conclusion: LGBTQ+ youth in DCF custody are in crisis. Along with alarming findings, the report offers clear insight into improving the lives of youth already in the system, providing more support for families of origin and foster families, and training staff and other professionals on the specific and timely needs of LGBTQ+ youth.
“Life in residential care got even harder after I started identifying as a transgender woman while placed in an all-boys program. The staff misgendered me most of the time. DCF denied me [gender-affirming care]… Their rationale was that they couldn’t “risk it.” In reality, they were risking my life by not giving me the healthcare I needed.” – Youth with a history of DCF involvement
As the Commission Chair says in the introduction to the report, “the status quo for LGBTQ youth in DCF is an emergency.” LGBTQ+ youth experience the repercussions of the lack of a clear, comprehensive agency policy affirming their identities, an insufficient supply of supportive placements, inadequate training for staff and foster families, and long delays and even denials of access to necessary healthcare. These shortcomings far too often lead to poor health and educational outcomes, violence, harassment, bullying, self-harm, and other devastating impacts. And these impacts often fall most harshly on Black and Brown LGBTQ youth and transgender youth, who face multiple biases and structural barriers.
“As a foster parent to transgender young people, I have not seen that DCF is able to engage in family support work around LGBTQ issues. They are always emphasizing what the parents have not done, rather than how to help them. I don’t know how DCF thinks they are ever going to reunify families if they don’t have empathy or compassion and if they aren’t willing to educate and support the parent. Without that, their job becomes to break families apart.”–Foster Parent
GLAD and our LGBTQ+ Child Welfare Alliance partners are calling on policymakers and legislators to act immediately to improve the child welfare system with the following measures:
- Collection and reporting of comprehensive, intersectional data that allows DCF and other responsible entities to track outcomes for LGBTQ+ youth and to understand and meet their needs better. The legislature should pass An Act Relative to Accountability for Vulnerable Children and Families (H.239/S.32) with a requirement that DCF consistently collects and report intersectional sexual orientation and gender identity data.
- Development and implementation of a comprehensive LGBTQ+ policy and training for all adults who come into contact with LGBTQ+ youth, including staff, foster families, and providers. Neighboring states such as Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, and sister state agencies like DYS have such policies.
- The legislature should pass H.211/S.88 to create an independent Foster Care Review Office to improve accountability, transparency, and oversight for the foster care review process, to strengthen protections for youth in DCF care and custody.
- Increase and tracking of affirming placements for LGBTQ+ youth in both foster homes and group settings.
- Improved, more timely access to gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth.
- Creation of a statutory foster child bill of rights with explicit protections for LGBTQ+ youth, including access to gender-affirming medical care.
“Ultimately, it took nearly two years to get my child the care she needed. Bias and transphobia from multiple professionals involved in the child welfare system hindered the process. Foster parents do not receive training on this. Can you imagine what happens to a child who ends up in a home where the foster parent does not already know all of this?” – Foster Parent
The findings of the Commission’s report are dire, but our advocacy is working. The momentum is building, and a new gender-affirming care policy goes into effect on September 30. Later in the fall, GLAD Senior Staff Attorney Patience Crozier is moderating a series of trainings in collaboration with Child Protection and Child Services on better serving transgender youth and other LGBTQ+ people. There is much to do, but we are working harder than ever to directly impact young people’s treatment and lives in state custody. To get involved, visit GLAD.org/mass-alliance.