Foster care agencies step up efforts on behalf of LGBT youth

Many LGBT youth who are rejected by their own families often encounter prejudice, harassment and abuse when they shift to a foster home.
Many LGBT youth who are rejected by their own families often encounter prejudice, harassment and abuse when they shift to a foster home.

When she entered a foster-care group home in 2012, Delilah Ramos was, by her own description, a hard-drinking teen with a wild streak. And as a lesbian, she was unsure how her sexual orientation would be received.

Today, three years later at age 19, Ramos could leave Marian Hall, her group home in Manhattan. But she wants to stay two more years.

“I consider this building a safe place,” she said. “I’m really grateful, living here.”

Her positive experience reflects a profound transformation in how gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youths across the United States are treated after they enter foster care.

Historically, the experience was often grim for them: Many were rejected by their own families, then encountered prejudice, harassment and abuse when they shifted to a foster home.

Efforts to tackle such problems have gained momentum across the U.S., but with varying success. Officials in some areas say the most sweeping institutional reforms, even though desired, may only come slowly. And some new requirements, they say, could risk shrinking the already limited pool of foster parents.

New York City, meanwhile, is at the vanguard of change. Its child-welfare agency, the Administration for Children’s Services, has been working for more than a decade to improve care for LGBT youth. In 2012, the agency established an Office of LGBTQ Policy & Practice (the Q stands for ‘questioning’), and stipulated that LGBT-oriented training must be given to all staff at its nonprofit partner agencies who work with young people.

Last year, ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrion went a step further, issuing a directive requiring that all newly certified foster parents pledge that they could provide an affirming, supportive home for LGBT youth. The policy also requires that veteran foster parents, when getting recertified, receive training in how to support LGBT youth.

Even in liberal New York, however, some prospective foster parents have balked at pledging their willingness to take an LGBT youth into their home.

Although recruitment remains a challenge, Rhodes Perry, who heads New York’s LGBTQ office, said the new policy for foster parents is feasible in part because the number of foster children in the city has dropped to about 11,000 — only a fourth of the peak level in the 1990s.

Still, much of the rest of the U.S. likely isn’t ready for New York’s approach.

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