LA LGBT Center Study Says a Fifth of County’s Foster Children Are LGBTQ

Lori Jean, CEO of the LA LGBT Center, at a press conference today discussing the results of a study of LGBT young people in foster care. (Photo courtesy of LA LGBT Center)
Lorri Jean, CEO of the LA LGBT Center, at a press conference today discussing the results of a study of LGBT young people in foster care. (Photo courtesy of LA LGBT Center)

Nineteen percent of the young people in the Los Angeles County foster care system are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to a study released today. Not only are LGBT and questioning young people disproportionately represented in the system, the study says, but they are more likely than heterosexual young people to encounter discrimination and other hardships.

“This is a groundbreaking study,” said Lorri Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. “It’s going to send shockwaves through the foster care system … Invisibility has been one of the most destructive barriers to our community … This is going to change that entire equation … I think this is going to lead to many changes, hopefully a revolution” in terms of how LGBT young people are treated in the foster system.

The Center commissioned the study, which was conducted by the Williams Institute and Holarchy Consulting, as part of its initiative to “develop a new model of care for LGBTQ foster youth.” The Center received a $13.3 million, five-year grant to fund that work.

“I would say that certainly we suspected that we were disproportionately represented,” Jean said. Some 30 to 40 percent of those who seek help through the Center’s homeless youth services are “refugees from the foster care system,” she said, “so we knew something was going on.”

Still, Jean said she was startled by how high the 19 percent figure is. It isn’t known exactly how many LGBT people there are, she said—but whether you ask an LGBT activist or an anti-LGBT figure, you’ll probably get an estimate that falls between 2 percent and 10 percent. By either metric (or the CDC numbers that fall in between) it’s clear that LGBT young people are significantly overrepresented in the system.

Foster Youth graphic 3-LA LGBT CenterNot only are LGBT and questioning young people more likely to be in foster care, the study says, but they are more likely to endure hardships. A press release about the study includes these findings:

  • More than 18 percent of all respondents (not all of them LGBTQ) reported experiencing discrimination related to their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity/expression
  • LGBTQ young people are more than twice as likely to live in a group home and have a higher average number of home placements
  • LGBTQ young people are twice as likely to report being treated poorly by the foster care system

The findings note that “LGBTQ youth have been relatively invisible within the system” and makes a call to “integrate questions about sexual orientation, gender identity, gender conformity and discriminatory experiences related to these social statuses into existing demographic data collection, intake, service planning and case review processes.”

LGBT foster youth, la LGBT CenterJean said that the Center has not yet made specific recommendations about how service agencies should collect that data but “that will be part of our larger demonstration project.” There are sensitivities, she noted, about collecting data on the sexual orientation and gender identity of young people in foster care. For example, there is concern that having a record of a specific young person being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered could cause problems for him or her. Jean said that the Center spent a lot of time working with partnering agencies to figure out the best way to identify LGBT and questioning young people in the system.

“All that we learned is going to be used in making recommendations in how to collect this data and how to protect the youth,” she said.

In addition to conducting the survey, Jean said, the Center has started to offer LGBT competency trainings to social workers. So far, more than 1,500 social workers in the county have received the such training.

Jean said that some social workers have been excited to learn how to better care for LGBT young people who are their clients. Others, she said, sit there with arms crossed over their chests and tell us they don’t want to be there… so we have a challenge there.”

In the spirit of full disclosure, WEHOville contributing editor Stevie St. John previously worked in the marketing and communications department at the Los Angeles LGBT Center (then the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center). Since leaving the Center, she has worked on some Center projects such as contributing to the Vanguard newsletter and teaching a class through the Learning Curve program.

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9 years ago

I have a extra bedroom open, I have always taken in youth who are down and out. No strings but one attached, that being they must attend school and get their GED or diploma. I feed them, clothe them, and see to all their needs, yet Nebraska now will not allow it as “No person who is single and resides with another person of the same or opposite sex, may become a foster adopt or foster care parent.” Nebr eliminated over half of the foster home that way. Yes I have been approved by the Neb foster care program, but… Read more »

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