LGBTQ+ youth, families of origin, and foster and adoptive parents are disproportionately touched by the child welfare system. For example, studies show that:
- One in three youth in foster care identify as LGBTQ+,
- Lesbian and bisexual mothers are four times more likely to have lost their children to the state in child welfare proceedings than their non-LGB counterparts, and
- Same-sex couples are seven times more likely to foster and adopt than their different-sex counterparts.
Although studies have shown our families are over-represented in the child welfare system, there is a lack of nationwide sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) data collection — which creates obstacles to understanding and addressing our families’ needs and challenges.
Why does inclusive data collection in child welfare matter?
For LGBTQ+ youth in foster care
It’s been established through point-in-time, localized studies that LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately represented in the foster care system. Once in the system, LGBTQ+ youth experience higher rates of multiple placements, educational instability, homelessness, and mistreatment. In fact, many report experiencing segregation, stigmatization, isolation, and institutionalization because of their LGBTQ+ identity. It’s also reported that LGBTQ+ youth in care suffer worse health outcomes as a result of this mistreatment, with disproportionately high levels of suicidal ideation and attempts.
How will inclusive data collection improve the challenges listed above? By collecting SOGI information on youth in care, we can better understand how many LGBTQ+ youth are in care and what their experiences actually are. Policymakers, advocates, and agencies can identify trends in the numbers and types of placements LGBTQ+ youth experience, as well as rates of disruption, and existing disparities among LGBTQ+ foster youth. With this increased understanding, they’re better equipped to develop policies, programs, and practices that address the specific needs of LGBTQ+ youth. .
For current and future LGBTQ+ foster and adoptive parents
Research finds that discrimination places LGBTQ+ families of origin — and, in particular, Black and American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) families and other families of color — at a greater risk of involvement with the child welfare system. By collecting SOGI data about families of origin, we can deepen our understanding of how the LGBTQ+ identity intersects with race, ability status, and/or income level in the child welfare sphere and use the information to reduce discrimination and inequity in removals. Specifically, inclusive data enables agencies to provide targeted interventions ahead of removals and reduce the rate of potential bias in removal, thereby allowing more children to safely remain at home.
For LGBTQ+ families of origin
Research finds that discrimination places LGBTQ+ families of origin — and, in particular, Black and American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) families and other families of color — at a greater risk of involvement with the child welfare system. By collecting inclusive data about families of origin, we can reduce discrimination and inequity in removals and build a deeper understanding of how the LGBTQ+ identity intersects with race, ability status, and/or income level in the child welfare sphere. Specifically, inclusive data enables agencies to provide targeted interventions ahead of removals and reduce the rate of potential bias in removal, thereby allowing children to safely remain at home.
What steps are being taken to improve data collection in child welfare?
The federal government has considered several initiatives throughout the year to increase SOGI data collection surrounding LGBTQ+ youth and families in the child welfare system. In response, our expert policy team submitted a number of comment letters, often in partnership with fellow movement organizations, to encourage the government to double-down on inclusive data collection and better support our families.
State Child Welfare Linkages Descriptive Study
In Spring 2022, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) proposed new primary data collection about connected child maltreatment data. According to their proposal, the “State Child Welfare Linkages Descriptive Study” would gather information on:
- The extent to which states connect their child maltreatment data to other state and county data sets;
- How connected data sets are created, managed, and used; and
- Challenges states face in linking data
In collaboration with the Movement Advancement Project, Family Equality submitted a comment in response to the State Child Welfare Linkages Descriptive Study, urging ACF to include and require data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) for youth in foster care by ensuring that questions about SOGI are incorporated into linked data sets on child maltreatment.
Child Welfare Study to Enhance Equity with Data (CW-SEED)
ACF also launched the Child Welfare Study to Enhance Equity with Data (CW-SEED) project this year, which aims to understand how and to what extent data is used to explore equity in service delivery and child and family outcomes.
Family Equality also submitted a comment in response to the CW-SEED proposal, supporting the information collection project and advocating for SOGI data collection to truly improve outcomes for LGBTQ+ children, youth, and families touched by the child welfare system.
Federal Evidence Agenda on LGBTQ+ Equity
In June 2022, President Biden signed Executive Order 14075 on Advancing Equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Individuals, a landmark order to address discriminatory attacks against LGBTQ+ youth and families. This order called for the establishment of a federal subcommittee on SOGI-specific data collection. In August, that subcommittee asked for input from the public to help inform the creation of these data collection initiatives (called the “Federal Evidence Agenda on LGBTQI+ Equity”).
In response, Family Equality, Lambda Legal, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights shared why LGBTQI+ data inclusion is essential for LGBTQI+ children, youth, and families in the child welfare system and LGBTQI+ youth involved with the juvenile justice system.
How can you support LGBTQ+ youth and families in the child welfare system?
The primary goal of the child welfare system is to ensure the best interests of all children are met. SOGI data collection is an essential step to achieving that goal — which is why it’s a top priority for the Every Child Deserves a Family campaign. Learn more about the campaign, get involved, and pledge to end discrimination in adoption and foster care at the link below!