May is National Foster Care Month: 7 Things LGBTQI+ Families Should Know

For National Foster Care Month, Family Equality recognizes the needs and challenges faced by the U.S. foster care system. LGBTQI+ youth face significant discrimination, mistreatment, and instability, with one in three youth in care identifying as LGBTQI+ and experiencing twice the rate of mistreatment compared to their non-LGBTQI+ counterparts. This often results in worse outcomes, including higher rates of homelessness, educational instability, and placement issues. Despite these challenges, LGBTQ+ individuals are seven times more likely to foster and adopt than heterosexual couples, often welcoming larger sibling groups, older youth, and children with disabilities into their homes. Here’s what you need to know.

Things to Know

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

  1. Last year there were over 368,000 youth in the U.S. foster care system, 108,000 of whom were waiting to be adopted. On average, over 20,000 youth “age out” of foster care each year – meaning they will leave the foster care system without finding permanency.  
  2. LGBTQI+ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system, making up one in three youth in care, and experience mistreatment in care at twice the rate of their non-LGBTQI+ counterparts. Mistreatment and discrimination negatively impacts outcomes for LGBTQI+ youth in care, resulting in higher rates of multiple placements, educational instability, and exiting foster care into homelessness. 
    • LGBTQI+ youth of color report even higher rates of placement instability and worse outcomes than their white counterparts.
  3. Research tells us that children who age out of foster care without finding permanency are subject to higher risks of homelessness, incarceration, drug addiction, early pregnancy, sex trafficking, and under- or unemployment.
  4. LGBTQ+ people are seven times more likely to foster and adopt than their heterosexual counterparts, and are more likely to foster and adopt large sibling groups, older youth, and children with disabilities. 
  5. Decades of robust, peer-reviewed research has found that LGBTQI+ 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 LGBTQ+ parenting and all equally support non-discrimination protections in foster and adoptive services and placements.
  6. States in need of foster and adoptive homes for children in care consistently report that one of their biggest obstacles is finding interested, qualified families who want to open their homes.
  7. And, finally, research tells us that many more LGBTQ+ individuals and couples would consider serving as foster or adoptive parents if they didn’t fear being turned away by child welfare agencies. A recent study conducted by Gallup and Kidsave found that more than a third of LGBT adults say discrimination they may face due to sexual orientation or gender identity is a major barrier to fostering.  

Given these facts, it seems obvious that we should be doing everything we can to support LGBTQI+ youth and individuals involved in the child welfare system. Unfortunately, some states are actively taking steps to chill the ability of LGBTQI+ parents to provide homes and permanency for youth in foster care. 14 states have laws that allow foster care agencies to turn away otherwise qualified parents, including LBGTQI+ parents, under the guise of so-called “religious freedom.” These bills harm LGBTQI+ and religious minority individuals and could: 

  • prevent a lesbian 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 an 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”)

Family Equality works to fight against these bills that would harm LGBTQI+ youth and families. To learn more about our work, join the Every Child Deserves a Family Campaign and receive updates about LGBTQI+ child welfare policies.

If you’re someone who has been involved in the child welfare system, including individuals with lived experience, foster or adoptive parents, or child welfare agency staff, please feel free to share your story with us here.

Photo of Laura Brennan

Laura Brennan

Associate Director, Child Welfare Policy

Laura Brennan (she/her) is currently the Associate Director of Child Welfare Policy for Family Equality, having previously served as the Child Welfare Policy Associate. In this role, she works at the state and federal level to advocate for LGBTQI+ youth and families involved in the child welfare system, including families of origin, prospective and current foster and adoptive parents, and kin.

Prior to joining Family Equality, she served in the Peace Corps, working as a Youth and Family Development Specialist in Ecuador. Laura graduated with a master’s degree in public policy from George Washington University in 2022.