Nancy Polikoff

California helps LGBTQ youth in foster care

Filed By Nancy Polikoff | October 26, 2010 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: California Department of Social Services, LGBTQ youth in foster care

The vast majority of states are officially silent on the issue of gay-bullying.jpgboth LGBT foster parents and LGBT children in the foster care system. We've gotten so used to opposing the states that ban LGBT foster and adoptive parents that we may sometimes forget the difference between permitting (perhaps grudgingly) and actually supporting and nurturing.

Well along comes California to show the way. Last week the state's Department of Social Services issued an "All County Information Notice" on the subject of serving LGBTQ youth, caregivers, and prospective foster and adoptive parents.

Here is the most important part:

All children and youth are best served by professionals that understand and nurture their individual needs. The LGBTQ children and youth do not have unique needs. They do, however, have distinct experiences and stressors generated by society's misunderstanding and biases. Public and private child welfare practitioners need to increase their understanding and tailor their services and supports in ways that respect these individuals' experiences. As part of their work, child welfare and juvenile justice professionals also can work to assist birth families, relatives, other caregivers and community partners to understand, affirm and nurture LGBTQ youth.

From there the notice provides specific links to best practices.

The phrasing of the notice is both unusual and important. It is not LGBTQ youth who have special needs. But their experiences of bias and misunderstanding are stressful and so they need understanding, affirmance and nurture from all their caregivers, and they need support and services that recognize what their experiences actually are.

Bullying of young people who are gay or perceived to be gay has been in the news recently because of several suicides. If you go to the websites of anti-gay groups, they, of course, cannot support such bullying. They admit that bullying is bad and should be discouraged. They just don't want any attention paid specifically to bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. Discourage all bullying, they say, and that's enough.

This California policy is such a welcome antidote to that mode of thinking. Foster care programs that are silent on the circumstances of the lives of LGBTQ youth will not meet the needs of those youth. They do need to have the bias and misunderstanding they face named as bias and misunderstanding. They do need to be affirmed. And that is precisely the response anti-gay groups oppose.

Kudos to California. I hope it becomes a model for other states.

cross-posted from Beyond Straight and Gay Marriage

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The California memo is excellent. But it doesn't seem to address the likely issue of what happens if foster parents claim their religious belief requires them to guide kids away from homosexual curiosity, experimentation, etc.
In our Florida community, some foster parents refuse to deal in a nurturing way with gay or transgender kids, so those kids get bounced into group homes, where there's higher risk of ridicule and bullying. My gay-affirming church is working on overcoming a bunch of bureaucratic hurdles, so we can gain access to the group home, introduce ourselves, show kids that gay people are not ogres, and bring them some computer games, pizza, etc. Of course, we have to undergo police checks and other scrutiny first -- the presumption being that we must be predators or recruiters if we're showing any compassion for LGBTQ youngsters.

I read the California scheme as denying licensing to such foster parents, but maybe I'm being naive...

Concern for LGBT foster youth is not a new thing for California. In 1994, when I did volunteer teaching in an LGBT dropout program in Los Angeles Unified School District, the state had already licensed a privately run service for LGBT youth foster care. As far as I know, it was the first, and only one of its kind, in the U.S. This was Gay & Lesbian Adolescent Social Services (GLASS). The organization had several group homes around Los Angeles.

The clients were kids who wanted out of parental custody, or whose parents wanted to throw away their custody. The state and GLASS shared custody till they turned 18.

State law requires foster kids to attend school. So several of my students were GLASS kids looking to get their high-school diploma. The stories they told, about how they'd been mistreated by their families, and how they'd been mistreated elsewhere in the system, and in juvenile detention, would curl your hair.

Unfortunately GLASS closed its doors several years ago, owing to a decline in funding. If I remember correctly, some of the young people were shuffled over to a youth program at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, which had received a grant for that purpose.

What a great line to close the first paragraph, Nancy.

We've gotten so used to opposing the states that ban LGBT foster and adoptive parents that we may sometimes forget the difference between permitting (perhaps grudgingly) and actually supporting and nurturing.

I think this could apply to more than just foster parents sometimes. We take things for granted that we shouldn't.

After mother jones's recent article discussing some of the horror stories for queer youth in the foster care system, there is a definite need for states to address this issue. It goes beyond bullying in schools and into bullying in group homes, abusive foster parents, and risky behavior on the street.

I have been a Fosterparent/Adoptive for 20 years now, 20 children were placed in my home and three of them were gay. I loved them as much or more because I understood all the additional peer pressure and bullying they had to endure. They will always be my family and I'm a better human being because of them. Wake up America, all children who are in Foster care need our help ,support and love and that opportunity to have a chance at a real life and future.