The fall 2009 issue of The Connection by CASA for Children discusses the importance of addressing the needs of LGBTQ youth in foster care. The challenges and risks faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth in care can be summarized in three broad categories: intolerance, lack of safety and barriers to permanency.
A teenage boy is singled out by his foster parents and worker solely because of his non-gender-conforming appearance and mannerisms. A recommendation is made for placement in a residential center known for treating youth who are sexual offenders.
Youth in foster care who are LGBTQ are less likely to find a permanent home than other children, whether that means reunification or adoption …“One of the issues that affects youth in the system who are sexual or gender minorities is not enough focus on permanency,” says Jody Marksamer, staff attorney and youth project director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). “Child welfare workers often give up on the idea that these youth will find a family that’s excited to have them.”
Transgender youth may have the hardest time with permanency. “I’ve worked with a lot of homelesstransgender youth who couldn’t find anyone who would accept them for who they are,” says Lydi Davidson, MSW, director of resource development for the National CASA member program Advocates for Children in Columbus, IN.
“The bigotry they face in the community is incredible. Institutions that most of us take for granted such as family, education, health care and religion often have turned their backs on them.” Davidson formerly ran Indiana Youth Group, an agency that offers a safe house and otherservices for gay and transgender youth ages 12–18.
Georgia Feiste is a volunteer advocate and trainer with CASA for Lancaster County in Lincoln, NE. She has also been active for 15 years with Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) because her son is gay.
“One of the things that I have observed about LGBT people is that there is often a great deal of introspection,” says Feiste. “And that is unusual for a teenager.
What I found with young teens is that at first most didn’t want to be gay. There is this self-hatred that starts to permeate their personality. Many teenagers who have not accepted the fact that they are gay become very angry and often end up self-medicating with alcohol and drugs, and our son was not an exception. What they are really looking for is someone to help them understand who they are—and help them learn to love themselves.”
What is Feiste’s message when she helps train new CASA volunteers? “The most important thing that these teenagers need is someone to tell them that they are okay just the way they are….”
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To provide support for agency workers, parents, and LGBT/Q youth, A Thousand Moms announces its first statewide conference call, Home and the Holidays for LGBT/Q Youth in Foster/Adoptive Care. Join our team of social workers on December 10 via conference phone line. Check www.athousandmoms.org in upcoming days.