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LGBTQ Youth in MA’s Child Welfare System Are in Crisis

Today the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth released a report on the crisis conditions facing LGBTQ youth in the Massachusetts child welfare system.

GLAD Senior Staff Attorney Patience Crozier issued the following statement:

The findings in LGBTQ Youth in the Massachusetts Child Welfare System: A Report on Pervasive Threats to Safety, Wellbeing, and Permanency are alarming, but not surprising.

The report, drawn from national research, years of reports to the Commission from LGBTQ youth, providers, caregivers and advocates, as well as interviews with young people and foster parents impacted by the system, makes two things startlingly clear:

1) A lack of a clear, comprehensive agency policy, a lack of affirming placements, inadequate training for staff and foster families, and long delays and even denials of access to lifesaving healthcare constitute an emergency situation for LGBTQ youth that far too often leads to violence, bullying, self-harm and other devastating outcomes; these impacts often fall most harshly on Black and Brown LGB youth and transgender youth, who face multiple biases and structural barriers

2) The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) and our legislators need to act now to address these issues.

One transgender young person quoted in the report describes being repeatedly misgendered, moved from foster home to foster home, placed in an unsafe situation in a group home that did not match their gender identity and where they were bullied and threatened, being denied access to gender affirming healthcare and eventually attempting suicide.

A foster parent describes having to educate DCF staff herself on how to affirm transgender youth, from using accurate names and pronouns to information about healthcare. She describes having to navigate bias, misinformation and delaying tactics from multiple professionals in the system in order to advocate for a transgender child in her care to get her basic medical needs met.

GLAD and other youth advocacy organizations including Citizens for Juvenile Justice have been calling for change and action by DCF repeatedly for several years. We have met with Secretary Sudders and Commissioner Spears to alert them to systemic issues and harms for LGBTQ youth and submitted testimony to the legislature urging accountability, accurate and consistent data collection and reporting, and development of a comprehensive LGBTQ youth policy among other key issues. Concerned staff members at DCF have advocated for change from within. GLAD and Citizens for Juvenile Justice have created an LGBTQ Child Welfare Alliance to bring together impacted youth and families as well as service providers and community organizations who know this work and the needs of LGBTQ youth in the system best.

GLAD joins in the call for immediate action from DCF on critical recommendations in the report, including:

  • Comprehensive, intersectional data collection and reporting that allows DCF and other responsible entities to track outcomes for LGBTQ youth and to better understand and meet their needs
  • Development and implementation of a comprehensive LGBTQ policy, and training for all adults that come into contact with LGBTQ youth, including staff, foster families, and providers
  • Increase and tracking of affirming placements
  • Improved access to gender affirming healthcare

and we call on the legislature to act by:

  • Passing 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
  • Passing An Act Relative to Accountability for Vulnerable Children and Families (H.239/S.32) with a requirement that DCF collect and report intersectional sexual orientation and gender identity data without qualification or reservation
  • Enshrining in statute a foster child bill of rights with explicit protections for LGBTQ youth, including gender-affirming medical care.

As the Commission’s report demonstrates, youth cannot wait any longer for change.