Supporting LGBTQ Youth in Public Systems: Get the Facts First

Youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) are overrepresented in child welfare. They often experience higher instances of low educational achievement, poor mental and behavioral health outcomes, and homelessness than their non-LGBTQ peers.

*Note: This article was originally published on Pride Pocket prior to merging with MyUmbrella*

Youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) are overrepresented in child welfare. They often experience higher instances of low educational achievement, poor mental and behavioral health outcomes, and homelessness than their non-LGBTQ peers.

The numbers paint a darker picture for LGBTQ youth of color, who represent approximately 57 percent of all children in out-of-home care.

Youth who identify as LGBTQ show disparate educational outcomes than their non-LGBTQ peers, often feeling unsafe at school and experiencing bullying and harassment.

Even more so, LGBTQ youth in foster care face the compounding effects that familial instability can have on educational outcomes; foster youth are less likely to have access to higher education or attend college.

LGBTQ youth are also more likely to have poor mental and behavioral health, which often happens when they live in households and homes that do not affirm or support their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Youth who identify as LGBTQ are also twice as likely as their non-LGBTQ peers to attempt suicide or face substance abuse, with the data starker when broken down by race, ethnicity, and gender. For LGBTQ youth involved in foster care, they often move from household to household, which places them at an even greater risk of experiencing poor mental and behavioral health outcomes.

Youth who identify as LGBTQ are disproportionately involved with the juvenile justice system, constituting between 13 to 15 percent of those served.

The overrepresentation is starker for girls and youth of color, as 40 percent of girls in the juvenile justice system identify as lesbian, bisexual or questioning or gender non-conforming, and 85 percent of them are youth of color.

Often reasons such as family rejection, family instability, and poverty resulting in homelessness, or involvement in the child welfare system, will increase LGBTQ youth’s – especially youth of color, transgender, and gender non-conforming youth – interactions with law enforcement and ultimately their involvement in the juvenile justice system.

LGBTQ youth have higher rates of experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness. With a strong link to child welfare involvement, 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, with youth of color overrepresented in the LGBTQ homeless population.

Often facing high rates of harassment based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression, LGBTQ youth in foster care run away or are frequently removed from their foster care homes.

Whether you’re a community organizer, service provider, practitioner, or policymaker, there are multiple ways to support LGBTQ youth, especially LGBTQ youth who are involved in public systems.

  • Check out this policy guide from the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) that is driven by recommendations from LGBTQ youth of color who have had child welfare involvement.
  • A new report from Lambda Legal offers an analysis outlining which states are lacking laws and policies to protect transgender, gender-expansive, and gender non-conforming youth in child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
  • The True Colors Fund, an organization that works to end homeless among LGBTQ youth, offers resources to reduce LGBTQ youth homelessness and support public system-involved youth. Check out their resources here.
  • Child Welfare League of America and Lambda Legal produced a tool kit that provides guidance, practical tips, and information to ensure that LGBTQ youth in care receive the necessary support and services they deserve.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration created a resource guide to help practitioners who work in a wide range of settings to better understand the important role of family acceptance and rejection in contributing to the health and well-being of LGBTQ youth. This includes practitioners who work in primary care, behavioral health, family service agencies, and foster care, and juvenile justice settings.

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