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TAGS: Foster Support
Written by Washington Foster Team
June 3, 2020

All kids in foster care have experienced some level of trauma, but for LGBTQ kids there’s also the issue of not being supported in their identity and gender exploration.

When LGBTQ foster youth age out of the system, their entry into adulthood is often tragically warped because of their past traumatic experiences. In many cases, they’ve spent their formative years being rejected by their families, bounced around to different foster homes, and bullied in school.

The results for many LGBTQ youth are just as grim, including an increased likelihood of homelessness, depression, and sexual harassment.

But there are opportunities to help. Agencies can provide better education for foster parents and birth parents. Organizations can offer more resources for youth. And all parties involved can support reunification so LGBTQ youth and their families have a second chance for a brighter future.

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Top Challenges LGBTQ Foster Youth Are Facing In Washington

LGBTQ foster youth often deal with the combined challenges of losing their home and living in a world that often does not support or affirm their identity. It’s no surprise that level of rejection can derail a child’s chance at a stable, healthy future.

Among the many challenges that LGBTQ foster youth face in Washington, some of the primary obstacles include:

1. Difficulty Finding Placement

Foster parents are not exempt from harboring conservative views about LGBTQ youth. Sometimes, those views can make it difficult for youth to find homes that are truly supportive and safe.

2. Abuse

According to the Human Rights Campaign in New York City, 78% of LGBTQ foster youth were removed or run away from their foster home because of hostility toward their sexual orientation or gender identity. And, because of difficulty finding placement, LGBTQ foster youth often end up in group homes where they may be abused by other foster youth for the same reasons.

3. Lower Graduation Rates

Every foster child is at greater risk of struggling in school, but LGBTQ youth are also common targets for bullying, making their educational experience that much more challenging.

4. Higher Risk Of Suicide

Rates of suicide are higher among all LGBTQ populations, but the added trauma of going through the foster care system only increases these rates in foster youth.

The challenges facing LGBTQ populations are so great that many former foster youth have reported being told to keep their sexual orientation a secret, just to make their lives a little easier.


Common Challenges Foster Parents Face With LGBTQ Children

One of the most critical parts of every foster parent’s journey to getting licensed is taking part in education and training sessions. These programs offer foster parents the tools and resources needed to help support children who have dealt with trauma, neglect, or even abuse.

Unfortunately, training specifically aimed at equipping foster parents with the tools to support LGBTQ youth are not yet mandatory. However, there are options.

For example, Amara, a private agency, offers a workshop designed to assist foster parents in learning “more about creating a safe and affirming environment for LGBTQ+ youth in their homes.”

Yet, training shouldn’t end with one workshop. Foster parents should capitalize on any opportunity to build a network of engaged and helpful resources, whether it’s a supportive teacher, school group, or family member engaged with the LGBTQ community.

“Oftentimes, LGBTQ youth don’t come out until they feel safe,” says Trey Rabun, Foster Care Services Supervisor at Amara. And, for foster youth whose identity has caused them so much trauma, feeling safe enough to come out could be a major step forward in their path to healing.


Reunification For LGBTQ Youth? 

Reunification is the goal in foster care. Often, it comes after children have been separated from their parents because of a struggle with addiction or simple neglect.

But what about a teen who has left home because they didn’t feel safe after coming out? Can they return from that level of rejection? Is it safe?

Reunification is rooted in the belief that people can change. Just like parents can beat addiction, they can also learn how to support a child whose identity is different from what they expected.

“When their kids come out, I think a lot of parents have an initial struggle because it's not what they thought their kid would be. They’re readjusting all those expectations of parenting and the dreams they had for their child. It’s a process,” says Rabun.

Parents who reject their children are not lost causes. They deserve the chance to change, because the only alternative is a life separated from their children.

In some cases, reunification may not be possible. In those circumstances, stable, safe placements in loving foster homes are the next best option.


What Foster Parents Should Know Before Fostering An LGBTQ Youth 

Foster parents should make every effort to learn as much as they can about the challenges facing LGBTQ foster youth. Beyond education, foster parents have the ability to support youth in other, simple ways.

For example, foster parents can integrate subtle clues that they are LGBTQ friendly, like hanging a gender unicorn poster on their fridge or by watching TV shows or movies that feature gay couples. These indirect affirmations show a foster youth that they can trust you.

Slowly, you can build on that trust to show them that they deserve a safe, stable, supportive home and thrive as a result.

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