Life is tough enough for a foster child. Imagine being a foster child who is gay and placed in a home where they are discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. Imagine being a child who is verbally abused with homophobic slurs and made to feel unwelcomed in a home that is supposed to be welcoming. This sort of discrimination and treatment of gay youth in the foster care system has presented enough of an issue that the federal health officials sent a letter in 2011 encouraging further training of caseworkers and foster parents on the issue according to the Associated Press on June 22.
Officials have made is clear that they don’t want to force a child to disclose their sexuality but want to place them in an environment where they feel comfortable to come out and have the support they need to feel accepted.
Kamora Herrington, mentoring program director of True Colors, an organization that helps gay foster youths in Connecticut said that she has had conversations with youth in the system who are afraid to come out because of “how staff treated their friends in the system after they came out.”
One child, a lesbian girl, was kicked out of her home in Connecticut after the family’s grandmother moved in and opposed homosexuality. The result was the girl hitch-hiking across the country in hopes of finding a more accepting community. These sort of situations are what states like Massachusetts are working to improve.
Massachusetts was one of the first states to open a co-ed group home for gay foster teens after it was reported that too many of them were living on the streets. About 100 foster youths have lived in the home which also offers a mentoring program as well as life skills classes that teaches the kids the basics of cooking and budgeting. Tools that can help them live a life on their own.
But the issue is recruiting gay foster parents. States are pushing for this, but it is tough because most LGBT couples are looking to adopt and don’t have much interest in becoming foster families. Therefore gay youths in foster care are pretty much left out. Robin McHaelen, executive director of True Colors said:
“Many of our kids have been told they’re not family appropriate: We’re not even going to look for a family for you. We’re going to look for a group home.”
This is a reason why efforts have increased in states like Illinois, where child welfare officials have started the process of hiring 29 new recruiters to find foster families and mentors for young gay youth and Florida, where a regional task force on gay foster youths have been set up to increase training for Department of Children and Families caseworkers. Efforts have also increased in places like New York City, where a campaign has been launched to recruit gay and lesbian foster parents in an effort to diversify the foster system and create more welcoming home for LGBT children.
Overall efforts which includes further training and education should help strive towards better situations for gay foster kids. The states are doing their parts, but it’s time for foster parents and mentors to step up and provide the environments these children need to grow and explore who they are as they are.