May is National Foster Care Month: 6 Things LGBTQ Families Should Know

May is National Foster Care Month, and we want to start the month with a look at the facts:

  • On average there are more than 427,000 youth in the foster care system nationwide every year, more than 111,000 of whom are awaiting adoption. Over 20,000 of these young people will “age out” each year – meaning they will leave the foster care system without ever finding permanency with a family of their own.  LGBTQ youth are over-represented in the foster system, comprising approximately 20% of all foster youth (or at least twice the general population). Year in and year out, we see these same numbers. (Source: HHS)
  • Research tells us that children who age out of foster care without finding permanency are subject to much higher risks of homelessness, incarceration, drug addiction, early pregnancy, sex trafficking, under- or unemployment and worse.  It is clear, then, that serving this vulnerable population is not only the right thing to do, but that it also makes good fiscal sense by ultimately reducing negative outcomes which lead to increased social and financial burdens on the state.
  • LGBT people tend to foster at 4 times the rate and adopt at 6 times the rate of their different-sex counterparts. (Source: Williams Institute)
  • Almost 40 years of robust, peer-reviewed research tells us that LGBT people make good parents and that the outcomes for their children are equal to those raised by different-sex parents. Every major national child welfare organization, including the Child Welfare League of America, the National Association of Social Workers, North American Council on Adoptable Children, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics, endorses LGBT parenting and all equally support non-discrimination principles in foster and adoptive services and placements.
  • States in need of foster and adoptive homes for waiting children consistently report that one of their biggest obstacles is finding interested, qualified families who want to open their homes.
  • And, finally, research tells us that many more LGBT individuals and couples would consider serving as foster or adoptive parents if they didn’t fear being turned away by child welfare agencies. While we don’t have precise numbers on this, a 2007 Williams Institute study tells us that there may be as many as 2 million additional LGBT people who would consider fostering and/or adopting from the public system.

Given these facts, it seems obvious that we should be doing everything we can to recruit LGBTQ parents into the foster care system. And, to be sure, some states are doing just that. Yet barriers still remain.

It is tempting to believe, with the advances in marriage equality and the decades of research telling us that the outcomes of children raised by LGBT people are just as good as those of children raised by different-sex parents, that discrimination against LGBTQ people, especially with regard to parenting, is a thing of the past.  But it was just last month – April 2017 – that the Nebraska Supreme Court finally officially struck down a formal policy that had been in place since 1995, prohibiting gay and lesbian people from becoming licensed foster parents.

Without being as direct as Nebraska’s 1995 policy, some states are actively taking steps to chill the ability of LGBTQ parents to provide homes and permanency for youth in foster care. Legislation is being proposed in a half-dozen states that would allow foster care agencies to turn away otherwise qualified parents, including LBGTQ parents, under the guise of so-called “religious freedom.”  While these bills are meant to target the LGBTQ community directly, they often have a much broader impact. For example – these bills, if passed, could:

  • prevent a gay grandmother from fostering/adopting a grandchild in the system,
  • keep a child in a government group home rather than place them with a loving qualified couple who don’t adhere to the agency’s religious beliefs,
  • prevent a single person, or a person who has been divorced, from being considered,
  • exclude someone of another faith or no faith from consideration,
  • ignore the best interests of the child in determining placement (such as refusing to place an LGBTQ-identified youth with accepting parents and instead place them with someone who intends to put the youth into “conversion therapy”)

This month, Family Equality Council will bring you stories and analysis of the foster care system in the United States and how LGBTQ parents might help alleviate the burden on the state of its child welfare system and help youth in care find permanency.