SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A bill designed to make foster care safer and more supportive for LGBT was signed into law Thursday night by Governor Jerry Brown.
Assembly Bill 1856, authored by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano and co-sponsored by the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, will require existing training programs for foster youth caregivers to include information related to cultural competency and best practices for serving LGBT young people. The bill was approved by the Assembly by a 49-25 bipartisan vote, and the Senate by a vote of 23-13.
The new law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2013.
“We applaud the Governor’s signature on this bill to help ensure that LGBT young people, who are among the most vulnerable children in our state’s child welfare system, have the security and comfort they deserve,” said Clarissa Filgioun, Equality California board president. “We are also grateful to Assemblymember Tom Ammiano for his leadership and hard work to pass this important update to out-of-home care guidelines.”
LGBT youth are disproportionately targeted for harassment and discrimination in the foster care system. This abuse is perpetrated not only by youth peers, but in some cases by facility staff, foster parents, and other service providers. When the abuse is between peers, the harassment has too often been condoned by facility staff or gone unaddressed.
“It is crucial that foster homes are supportive places for youth to grow and learn safely but LGBT youth are disproportionately targeted for harassment and discrimination in the foster care system," Ammiano said. "AB 1856 will ensure that foster care providers have the training necessary to address the wide range of issues specific to LGBT youth.”
Aside from physical and verbal abuse or harassment, instances of unlawful discrimination against LGBT youth in foster care include confiscating LGBT supportive materials or prohibiting LGBT youth from receiving LGBT supportive services offered through LGBT youth groups or resource centers. There are also many cases of caregivers or service providers refusing to use the youth’s requested name or pronoun, prohibiting the youth from wearing clothing consistent with their gender identity, or actively trying to change the youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity with so-called “reparative” or “conversion” counseling. While many of these instances of unlawful discrimination are prohibited under existing law, additional steps must be taken to educate caregivers on both the law and best practices to improve this situation.
Research indicates that unsafe and unsupportive foster home environments significantly contribute to homelessness among LGBT youth. In a study of 400 LGBT homeless youth in San Diego, 64% reported that they ran away from at least one out-of-home placement due to harassment or assault, including sexual assault. A New York joint Task Force on Child Welfare and Safety reported that 70% of the LGBT youth study participants experienced physical violence in foster care and 56% said that they lived on the streets at times because they felt it was safer than living in group or foster homes.