Friday, Jun 17, 2016
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning (LGBTQ) youth enter the foster care system for many of the same reasons as non-LGBTQ youth such as abuse, neglect, and parental substance abuse.
But many LGBTQ youth have the added layer of trauma that comes with being rejected or mistreated because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
That’s what happened to 16-year-old David. David’s abusive father abandoned him amid conflict over David’s sexual orientation and gender identity. The whereabouts of David’s mother are unknown. Now David is in foster care.
Since coming into the foster system, David stated that he would like to be more “involved with the LGBTQ community to help create a stronger network.” This, along with cheerleading for the past two years, is what keeps him going. Child Advocates is actively looking for an Advocate, who can help David during this difficult time in his life.
“CASAs can provide a safe, non-judgmental environment for children to express their thoughts and feelings about what they’re going through,” explains Dawn Pratt, Child Advocates’ CASA specialist who works with LGBTQ youth. “Just having a non-biased, caring adult for children who identify is huge.”
Sexual orientation and gender are important to young people. Understanding and expressing sexual orientation and gender and developing related identities are typical developmental tasks that vary across children and youth. For example, some children may be unsure of their sexual orientation, yet to those around them, it has been evident since childhood that LBGTQ children are expressing themselves outside the traditional norm, and have been since a young age.
Unfortunately, LGBTQ youth experiences various challenges because of how others respond to their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. This applies equally to those who are still questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity. Stress associated with negative experiences can put LGBTQ youth at risk for adverse health outcomes. Research has shown that due to these environmental challenges, LGBTQ youth is at risk for adverse health outcomes and more likely to attempt suicide, experience homelessness, and use illegal drugs. All of these stressors may contribute to anxiety, depressive symptoms, and feelings of isolation.
In most cases, foster youth have experienced abuse, neglect or rejection from their parents when they learn that they identify as LGBTQ or are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Consider dismal statistics:
- 26 percent of children are forced out of their homes because they identify as LGBTQ.
- 30 percent of LGBTQ youth report physical abuse at the hands of a family member after coming out.
- 43 percent of LGBTQ youth experience homelessness because they were forced out of their homes.
- 32 percent of LGBTQ youth have experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at home over their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Child Advocates of Silicon Valley offers a plethora of resources to foster children, their parents, and caretakers to develop competencies and to understand what to expect and how to talk about and positively address issues that affect LGBTQ youth. These resources include providing safe and supportive environments (with families or in a group or foster home).
It is undeniable that significant progress is underway toward LGBTQ equality in the United States. Marriage equality has swept the nation, the experiences of transgender Americans are more visible than ever before, and many youths are coming to identify as LGBTQ in environments far more welcoming and affirming than could have been imagined just a decade ago. Unfortunately, this progress is not felt by all members of the LGBTQ community. Too many LGBTQ youths come out to a family member only to face rejection, hatred, and violence. Those facing the most extreme levels of family rejection and maltreatment are often forced out of their homes, or will run away, becoming homeless or entering the foster care system.
“For the LGBTQ foster youth who has experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse, the supportive role of the CASA volunteer is crucial to that child’s mental health and well-being,” Pratt says.
*David’s name and photo were changed to protect his identity.
Sources: Human Rights Campaign, National CASA, Child Advocates of Silicon Valley, and Youth.Gov.