May is national Foster Care month and it was kicked off with a Presidential Proclamation on April 30th making it the first proclamation by a President that stated gender identity should not be a barrier to adopting and fostering children.
The White House Proclamation reads, “With so many children waiting for loving homes, it is important to ensure all qualified caregivers have the opportunity to serve as foster or adoptive parents, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. That is why we are working to break down the barriers that exist and investing in efforts to recruit more qualified parents for children in foster care.”
There are approximately 400,000 children and young adults in the foster care system with more than 100,000 of them adopted every year. Unfortunately, approximately 23,000 young adults age-out of the system. Aging-out is exactly what it sounds like; when a child reaches the age of 18 and they have not been adopted, they are basically sent out of the system and in most cases straight to the streets contributing to our nation’s youth homeless problem.
It has always been known that a certain percentage of the children in foster care fall into the LGBTQ+ spectrum and having attended many adoption functions prior to bringing our first child home, it was evident that the LGBTQ+ kids were either struggling to find homes, or simply disengaging from the process. But actual numbers have never been tracked.
I reached out to an adoption network liaison and asked her if they knew what the percentage was in Minnesota, the answer was, “I wish I had a number for you or a place to find the info. I don’t.”
Thanks to a recent study by the Williams Institute, we are finally getting a hold of those numbers and it appears that approximately 19% of all children within the Los Angeles foster care system fall somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. That percentage is 1.5 to 2.0 higher than youth living outside of foster care. Extrapolated out to the national level, that would mean approximately 80,000 children and youth in the national foster care system are on the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
The following graph and top level statistics are:
The key results of the study are:
• 19% of foster youth identify as LGBTQ (13.4% – LGB or questioning; 5.6% transgender); that’s as much as twice the estimated percentage of youth not in foster care who are LGBTQ.
• Generally, LGBTQ foster youth mirror the racial/ethnic demographic of all foster youth in Los Angeles County; the majority are people of color. The study found that over 86% were Latino, Black, or API identified.
• More than 18% of all respondents reported experiencing discrimination related to their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, some of whom don’t identify as LGBTQ.
• LGBTQ youth are more than twice as likely to live in a group home and have a higher average number of home placements.
• LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to report being treated poorly by the foster care system.
• The percentage of LGBTQ youth who were hospitalized for emotional reasons (13.5%) was nearly triple the percentage of similar hospitalizations for non-LGBTQ youth (4.2%), but physical reasons for hospitalization were reported less often.
As a trans mother of three boys that came from the Minnesota Waiting Children’s Program [Minnesota’s Foster Care System], I can attest that children within the foster care system that are LGBT+ can be put into group homes, they report poor overall treatment by foster parents that in many cases are part of the religious right and are attempting to “save these children.” LGBT+ children can also experience frequent moves, and aging out of the system. Adoption laws vary by state but, for the most part, states that have legalized same-sex marriage have also opened the doors to same-sex adoptions.
Currently there are 16 states that definitely allow joint gay adoptions (when a same-sex couple jointly petition for adoption): Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.
Other states allow second-parent adoption by law. Second parent adoption is when one person adopts the child of his partner. These states include: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.
The most restrictive state is Mississippi, where same-sex couples cannot legally adopt at all.
Sexual orientation or gender identity is addressed in the home study. A home study is the screening process of both the home and lifestyle of prospective adoptive parents that allows the adoption to take place. In many cases, disclosing your LGBT+ status can instantly disqualify a couple or put them at the bottom of the list when it comes to a child being placed in a home.
According the FAQ section government website ChildWelfare.Gov, it gives the following advice when it comes to sexual orientation or gender identity on the home study. “In States where joint adoption is not allowed, you may need to identify one person to be the primary applicant and one to be the “other member of household.” Ideally, the agency, and the home study social worker in particular, should be aware of your sexual orientation, gender identity, and relationship status to help you navigate the particular challenges in the city, county, or State where you reside. ”
Still, resistance against the LGBT+ community continues when it comes to adoption. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry [AACAP] reported that children who are adopted by same-sex couples:
⦁ Are not more likely to be gay than children with heterosexual parents.
⦁ Are not more likely to be sexually abused.
⦁ Do not show differences in whether they think of themselves as male or female (gender identity).
⦁ Do not show differences in their male and female behaviors (gender role behavior).
When I came out as transgender to my children in July of 2014, it was done during dinner time and the reactions were as follow”
14 Year Old Son: “Well, are you still my parent?”
Me: “Yes, you can call me mom too.”
14 Year Old: “OK, I’ve noticed you have been happier and I love you, so whatever makes you happy.”
9 Year Old Son: “Now I’ve got two mommies?”
9 Year Old: “Well I like your cooking better anyway.”
8 Year Old” “Aaaaaaaah…you’re a girl, you’re a girl, ha ha ha ha.”
Within one month, all of my children were using the proper pronouns and referring to me as their “other mom” or just plain “mommy.” True there was an initial shock to the family system, but a year has gone by and my children are at the point of not remembering the “old me.” I am a much better mother than I was ever a father and my children are proof of that. They say I am much more engaged than I had ever been and our family structure is still on solid ground.
Currently there are no statistics breaking down the 23,000 children aging out of the system, but if potential parents who are LGBT+ are allowed to adopt, we can assume the number of age-outs will decrease and the in home placements will rise by the corresponding percentages.
It’s time to allow everyone an equal opportunity to adopt a child, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.