LGBTQ foster youth twice as likely to report poor treatment, more likely to live in group homes and to have more foster care placements
LOS ANGELES, California -- A first of its kind study finds that approximately 1 in 5 (or 1,400) foster youth in Los Angeles County, home to the nation’s largest population of foster youth, identify as LGBTQ.
The study report, titled “Sexual and Gender Minority Youth in Los Angeles County Foster Care: Assessing Disproportionately and Disparities,” was funded as part of a landmark $13.3 million, five-year grant awarded to the Los Angeles LGBT Center (the Center) as part of the federal Permanency Innovations Initiative (PII) and co-authored by scholars at UCLA’s Williams Institute and Holarchy Consulting.
It is the first population-based survey aimed at measuring sexual orientation and gender identity of youth in any foster care system.
“Historically, many of the LGBTQ youth who turn to us for a safe place to live have aged out of the foster system, don’t have the skills or resources to make it on their own, and would otherwise be homeless” said Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the Center. “So this study supports our long-held belief that LGBTQ youth are not only overrepresented in the foster system but extremely disadvantaged within that system.”
The study, called the Los Angeles Foster Youth Survey (LAFYS), was funded to answer questions about how many sexual and gender minority youth are in foster care in the County and to understand more about their experiences.
“We found LGBTQ youth in foster care share many similarities in experiences with non-LGBTQ youth, including racial disparities, yet also face unique systemic barriers to placement in permanent homes, such as being placed in group homes and experiencing homelessness at higher rates” said the survey study’s Principal Investigator, Bianca D.M. Wilson, Senior Scholar of Public Policy at UCLA’s Williams Institute.
Key findings from the study include:
• 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.
In response to the study’s findings, Jean said “The study validates the importance of our ongoing work to develop a new model of care for LGBTQ foster youth; they remain some of the most vulnerable, and forgotten, in our community. When finished, we hope this model will be replicated in cities around the country, because there’s no reason to believe the problems for LGBTQ foster youth are unique to Los Angeles.”
The LAFYS Report covers the findings answering the study’s main questions about sexual and gender minority youth disproportionality. Dr. Wilson noted that in terms of research, “The next steps will be to publish a manual sharing our new methodology with child welfare departments and researchers across the country, and then to further explore the data suggesting girls and gender nonconforming youth are particularly vulnerable.”
The Center’s RISE (Recognize Intervene Support Empower) Project, with funding from the Children's Bureau, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has been working in partnership with more than 20 other organizations, including the L.A. County Department of Children, Youth and Families; the L.A. County Department of Mental Health; and five prominent local foster care agencies to not only create, but test a new model of service to help LGBTQ foster youth find stable, loving homes. The research project evaluating this model is led by the Center and Westat, Inc and is currently underway.
“The cost to society of a foster care system that doesn’t properly serve LGBTQ youth isn’t just measured by the number of young people who are mistreated, discriminated against, and bounced from home to home,” said Curt Shepard, the Center’s Director of Children, Youth and Family Services, “it’s measured by all the associated costs — monetary and otherwise — to care for the psychological disorders, homelessness, and other issues that so many experience when they age out of the foster system at 18. Those are the issues youth are much more likely to experience after having lived in a group home, rather than with a loving family. There’s no question that the best thing we can do for foster youth, and for society, is to take better care of them while they’re young.”
Giovanni Fernandez, now 38, entered the foster system at the age of 3 and exemplifies the problems so many LGBT foster youth face.
“The family I had when I came out, at the age of 17, was very religious and said gay people burn in hell," Fernandez said. “On Thanksgiving they made me stay in my room until all the guests left so I wouldn’t infect them with ‘gay germs.’ I was scared and the social worker assigned to me wasn’t any help. After I came out to her, she just changed the subject. I really thought there was something wrong with me.”
The LAFYS was a telephone interview study with 786 randomly sampled youth ages 12-21 living in foster care in Los Angeles County. The study report was co-authored by Bianca D.M. Wilson, Senior Scholar of Public Policy at UCLA’s Williams Institute; Khush Cooper, Co-director of Holarchy Consulting; and Angel Kastanis and Sheila Nezhad, Public Policy Fellows at the Williams Institute.
The full study is available HERE.