Tom Jacobs On Foster Care and LGBT Youth

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It’s a good time to reflect on some troubling statistics concerning LGBTQ foster children and do something to make a difference.

It is estimated that approximately 260,000 youth are in the foster care system in the United States at any given time, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Additionally, it is estimated that up to 18 percent of children in foster care are LGBTQ youth. These youth are falling through the cracks and are more at risk of becoming runaways, homeless, suicidal and harassed by peers.

According to the research conducted for the American Bar Association’s Opening Doors Project, judges and lawyers who work with youth in foster care acknowledge they don’t have the knowledge or resources to help LGBT foster kids. It is essential that professionals working with LGBT foster youth be educated on the issues and knowledgeable about community programs.

We all need to pledge to make our communities safer for LGBTQ foster kids.

LGBTQ youth are over-represented in the foster care system due in part to the discrimination, harassment and abuse many face at home with their families as well as at school by their peers. According to Opening Doors Project, 30 percent of LGBTQ youth reported physical violence by their family after coming out, while 80 percent reported verbal harassment at school with 70percent of the students feeling unsafe and 28 percent dropping out. Many run away and feel more safe on the streets than at home.

An estimated 20 percent to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Considering that 3 percent to 5 percent of the U.S. population identifies as LGBT, the homeless rate for LGBT youth is grossly disproportionate. They leave home in response to the physical, sexual, emotional and verbal abuse they receive. Twenty-six percent of gay teens who came out to their parents were told to leave home. These homeless teens are more likely to use drugs, engage in sex work and attempt suicide.

In 2010, Mother Jones reported that out of 246 foster families surveyed, only 21 would accept an LGBT teen. In addition, LGBT parents continue to have difficulties in adopting and providing care for foster children. Some states including Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska and Utah even prohibit same-sex or unmarried couples from adopting. These laws and other policies present obstacles for LGBT parents to become the much needed foster parents to provide care for those seriously in need.

LGBT youth are more likely than their heterosexual peers to be placed in group homes. An overwhelming majority of the youth in group homes has been a victim of violence and all have been victims of verbal abuse based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The ABA’s Opening Doors Project highlights the following statistics: 70 percent of LGBTQ youth in group homes reported violence based on LGBT status; 100 percent reported verbal harassment; and 78 percent of youth were removed or ran away from placement due to hostility toward their LGBTQ status.

All foster youth have constitutional rights that provide for equal protection as well as freedom of speech and expression. A group home facility has a duty to protect LGBTQ youth from harassment and discrimination.

Although federal and state law is largely silent on explicit protections for transgender youth in foster care, the federal constitution protects the right of transgender youth to dress in accordance with his/her identity while living in a group home. In addition, the practice of placing LGBT youth in isolation for their own protection from their abusers violates their rights, in which group homes could face liability.

Many states have passed a foster children bill of rights. LGBT youth may not be specifically referenced to but are certainly included in the generic terms “foster children” and “youth in foster care.” The rights recognized in these laws — including an expectation of privacy, personal possessions, respect and space — are applicable to all foster children.

Take a stand against the perpetual harassment and discrimination LGBT foster youth experience. Ensure that lawyers and judges will be educated on issues facing LGBT foster youth so they can help in providing the appropriate resources to protect our youth. Sign the Opening Doors’ petition and pledge to make your community safer for LGBTQ foster kids.


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