• Dec 2011/Jan 2012
  • Vol. 12, No. 9

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Serving LGBTQ Children in LA Child Welfare

This article spotlights one of the six grantees funded last year by the Children's Bureau through the Permanency Innovations Initiative (PII) to test innovative approaches to finding permanency for youth experiencing long-term foster care.

Although it is not known how many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) children and youth are involved with the child welfare system, their safety, permanency, and well-being often are negatively affected because of their sexual identity. They frequently encounter harassment and mistreatment by peers and staff, homophobia, family rejection, a lack of appropriate and available services, and a lack of knowledge about how to serve this population. Additionally, LGBTQ children and youth in foster care often experience additional and more unstable placements and are placed in group homes more often than their heterosexual peers (Mallon, 2011).

The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center (http://laglc.convio.net/) seeks to address barriers to permanency for LGBTQ children and youth through its RISE (Recognize Intervene Support Empower) Initiative, which is part of the Children's Bureau's PII. The center's existing core services for youth include drop-in and housing services, as well as mentoring and other positive youth development programs for LGBTQ youth. Center staff report that approximately 50 percent of the more than 60 youth who visit the drop-in center each day have been in the foster care system.

The RISE project has completed its planning year, which was required for all PII grantees, and its staff are excited to begin pilot testing the interventions they have developed and providing project services to LGBTQ children and youth in 2012. RISE is composed of the following:

  • Outreach: RISE staff are drafting two protocols to help educate caseworkers and placement agency workers about how to discuss sexual identity issues at a developmentally appropriate level. One protocol will be for children ages 3 to 10, and the other will be for youth ages 11 to 17. The protocols also will include how workers can maintain privacy and confidentiality, whether and how to document any self-disclosures, how to ensure the child or youth is safe, and how to let RISE staff know if a child or youth self-identifies as LGBTQ and agrees to participate in the project.
  • Identification: The project is developing a computer-based survey focused on youth development and will ask questions about identity (including, but not exclusively, sexual orientation and gender identity) and safety issues. Initially, the survey will be administered annually to youth in 4 of L.A.'s 18 local offices, with additional offices to be included later. All youth in those offices will be asked to complete the survey regardless of whether they are or are perceived to be LGBTQ. All data will be de-identified to maintain the youths' confidentiality. This information hopefully will help shape agency practice and inform the field about the numbers and experiences of LGBTQ youth.
  • Care Coordination Teams (CCTs): RISE will provide wraparound-like services to LGBTQ youth in order to strengthen or build their family networks, which include their immediate birth families and an extended network of family and friends, and achieve permanency at one or more of the following levels: durable family connections, emotional permanency, and legal permanency. The project expects many of the youth receiving CCT services to be referred to the initiative by RISE partner agencies and county offices. Project staff will work with the families in the treatment group to increase family support for the youth, decrease family rejection, and help them be more affirming of the youth's sexual identity. They also will help the families better understand the risks and resiliencies of LGBTQ youth. Project staff will be careful not to reject the family's value system; rather, they will work with the family to show how the youth's sexual identity can be compatible with it.
  • Training and Coaching Institute (TCI): The TCI will be the mechanism through which RISE trains and coaches caseworkers and others about the other three components.

RISE staff feel that the CCT services may require a shift in thinking among caseworkers and service providers. LGBTQ youths' parents, often due to their prior rejection of the youth, usually are not viewed as potential permanency resources, whereas this project aims to reconnect LGBTQ youth with their families when appropriate and possible.

As the project moves into its pilot testing phase, Curt Shepard, Director of Children, Youth & Family Services at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, expressed his enthusiasm for this project's potential. "With the RISE Initiative, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center has been given a profoundly important opportunity. If we succeed in reaching our goals, we will have found ways to hasten the progress down the path to permanency for LGBTQ children and youth in foster care. What we envision is nothing short of a sea change in the way the child welfare system cares for LGBTQ children and youth."

References

Mallon, G. P. (2011). Permanency for LGBTQ youth. Protecting Children, 26(1), 49–57. Retrieved from http://www.americanhumane.org/assets/pdfs/children/protecting-children-journal/pc-26-1.pdf

Many thanks to Curt Shepard and Lisa Parrish, RISE Project Director, of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center for providing the information for this article.

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