Supporting LGBTQ Foster Youth

In an earlier post this month, we discussed the 440,000 children in foster care nationwide.  However, among those 440,000 children and youth are an over-represented group that, according to a 2019 California-based study, represent nearly 31%.  These are young people who identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning). These youth are more likely to experience discrimination, abuse, neglect and risk of harm than cisgender youth who live in foster care.  In fact, the U.S. National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that LGBTQ homeless youth are roughly 7.4 times more likely to suffer acts of sexual violence than heterosexual homeless youth.

Only 13 states and the District of Columbia have explicit laws or policies in place to protect foster youth from discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity (Kozuch, 2020). Seven additional states explicitly protect foster youth from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but not gender identity (Kozuch, 2020).  The state of Arizona is not among those 13.  In fact, according to the Movement Advancement Project no such protections have become law in Arizona.   

Without these kinds of protections, foster parents become even more important to the well-being of LGBTQ youth.  Child Welfare Information Gateway, a division of the Children’s Bureau, has compiled a fact sheet for foster parents on how to support LGBTQ children in their care, including tips for creating a welcoming and inclusive home and how to advocate for them in the community.  The Foster Club has compiled a host of resources on how to support LGBTQ youth, and to help reduce the unique risks they face. Also, the Human Rights Campaign compiled a list of “5 Things You Can Do Today to Support LGBTQ Youth.”  

Here are 10 quick tips for supporting your LGBTQ foster youth:

  1. Remember that any youth in foster care, regardless of sexual orientation is need of a home that provides them with a safe place where they can process their feelings, express who they are, and exist in a structure that supports their growth towards adulthood. Let your youth know you are there to listen to them and willing to talk about anything
  2. Make it clear that slurs or jokes based on gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation are not tolerated in your house. Express your disapproval of these types of jokes or slurs when you encounter them in the community or media.
  3. Support your youth’s self-expression through choices of clothing, jewelry, hairstyle, friends, and room decoration.
  4. When a youth discloses his or her LGBTQ identity to you, respond in an affirming, supportive way.
  5. Understand that the way people identify their sexual orientation or gender identity may change over time.
  6. Use the name and pronoun (he/she) your youth prefers. (If unclear, ask how he or she prefers to be addressed.)
  7. Respect your youth’s privacy. Allow him or her to decide when to come out and to whom.
  8. Connect your youth with LGBTQ organizations, resources, and events. Consider seeking an LGBTQ adult role model for your youth, if possible
  9. Use gender-neutral language when asking about relationships. For example, instead of, “Do you have a girlfriend?” ask, “Is there anyone special in your life?”
  10. Celebrate diversity in all forms. Provide access to a variety of books, movies, and materials—including those that positively represent same-sex relationships. Point out LGBTQ celebrities, role models who stand up for the LGBTQ community, and people who demonstrate bravery in the face of social stigma

You can also find additional resources for supporting LGBTQ youth at the CDC, and The Trevor Project