It’s this disproportionality that makes it vital for us as child advocates to be aware of all potential biases that LGBTQ youth may face while in the foster care system and better help these children navigate the system while they also navigate their gender and sexual identities. To learn how we can better advocate for LGBTQ youth in the foster care system, we spoke to Anna Nguyen, President of the Austin chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Persons (PFLAG).
“PFLAG Austin does outreach in the community, we talk to companies, university classes, continuing education sessions for high school teachers on many LGBTQ-related topics,” says Nguyen. “Our main vision is to provide support, and for that we hold support group meetings that happen at various times at different locations [around Austin].”
When asked what specific needs of LGBTQ youth in foster care should be addressed, Nguyen emphasizes the need for resources. “I can imagine the biggest challenge for [LGBTQ youth] in foster care would be access to resources because they don’t have as high mobility, like access to regular transportation.”
Indeed, access to resources and establishing a network of LGBTQ mentors and peers can play an impactful part in how LGBTQ kids are being advocated for when they’re in the system.
For Diana McCue, a Teen Advocacy Specialist who has experience advocating for transgender youth, it’s important for these teens to talk with someone who’s shared a similar experience. “For a trans youth in the system, having a trans mentor who is active in the community as well as connecting with other trans and LGBTQ youth is incredibly vital,” says McCue.
“I think it’s really important to allow [LGBTQ] youth room to develop their gender and sexual identities,” says McCue. “CASA is here to have these tough discussions with them, and it’s important we get on board with them and be supportive.”
Nguyen encourages CASA volunteers to attend one of PFLAG’s support group meetings to learn more about what LGBTQ youth are experiencing. “[The meetings] tend to be really beneficial and educational because hearing others’ experiences and viewpoints and how they approach issues and problems can be very useful.”
For one CASA volunteer, acceptance meant taking a trans youth in the system to get their nails done during their visits together. This demonstration of acceptance in the youth’s gender identity and the volunteer’s nurturing disposition made this teen feel more supported and comfortable opening up to their CASA volunteer.
“I want people to know that [gender and sexual identity] is just one aspect of a child,” says McCue. “It becomes a huge discussion because our community struggles with how to deal with LGBTQ issues. These are real people, and they need to be properly advocated for just like all other kids in the child welfare system.”
For child advocates to better serve marginalized youth in foster care, we need to open our minds and our ears and learn about each child as an individual first. We must put in a conscious effort to not rely on preconceived notions about a child’s gender or sexual identity in order to help them attain the best opportunities in life.
From having open conversations about identity to requesting more tolerant placements in court, the way in which we advocate for LGBTQ youth in the system can make a world of impact on how they fare in foster care.
For more information on PFLAG’s support group meetings, visit https://pflagaustin.org/meetings/
2021 Advocacy LGBTQ August