LGBTQ youth and the challenges of the foster care system

May 21 2014

By Callie Langford, Originally published in TODO Austin Magazine

May is National Foster Care Month, a time for all of us to reflect on the lives and experiences of children in foster care in our community. The outcomes for children who grow up in foster care, and particularly for those who age out of the system before finding a permanent home, are often negative. Low high school graduation and even lower college attendance rates, teen pregnancy, unemployment, homelessness and incarceration can be some of the unfortunate consequences of spending time in the overburdened child welfare system.

Spending time in foster care can be an even more challenging experience for youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning their sexuality (LGBTQ). Coming out to one’s family can be the reason youth enter the foster care system if their family isn’t receptive to finding out about their sexual orientation or sexual identity. The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund reports that more than 30% of youth who identify as LGBTQ were subject to physical abuse after coming out to their family, and that more than 26% had to leave their homes and families because of conflicts with their parents after coming out. 

Once LGBTQ youth enter the foster care system, things can often get worse for them. The potential for their being bullied is already high yet these youth don’t have a supportive family situation to help overcome these struggles. If the bullying or harassment is occurring in their foster home, often the foster care agencies will move them instead of actually addressing the issue itself, and they may end up in a home or facility that’s even worse for them. The Urban Justice Center reports that hostility regarding sexual orientation or gender identity has caused nearly 80% of LBGTQ youth to be removed or run away from a foster home.

It is uncommon for LGBTQ youth to be reunited with birth families or have strong permanent connections to their family or community after entering foster care. The Child Welfare Education Gateway shares that, “Compared to other LGBTQ youth, those who are highly rejected by their families because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are: More than three times as likely to use illegal drugs or be at high risk for contracting HIV and other STDs; Nearly six times as likely to experience high levels of depression; [and] More than eight times as likely to attempt suicide.”

So May means it’s time for us all to take action to help kids in foster care, and particularly to make sure we’re improving the system for LBGTQ youth who may be facing some of the biggest challenges. One of the most impactful ways our community can take action is to become a CASA volunteer and advocate directly for the best interest of youth in foster care. CASA volunteers can be a consistent, positive, and non-judgmental presence for a teen who is not only dealing with the struggles of foster care but also the challenges of discovering their identity as young adults.