LOS ANGELES – Nearly 20 percent of foster youth in Los Angeles County identify as LGBTQ, a statistic that prompted the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to look for ways to improve services for LGBTQ youth in the county’s care.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl championed the motion, which was co-authored by Supervisor Hilda Solis.
LGBTQ youth end up in the foster care system for many of the same reasons as their non-LGBTQ peers — abuse, neglect, parental drug and alcohol abuse — but many also experience rejection and mistreatment because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
“Often these children have been doubly disadvantaged by bigotry and ignorance as well as neglect and abuse,” Kuehl said. “This motion lays the groundwork for the county to better provide for their needs, including tailored services delivered by well-trained and culturally competent staff, and identification of supportive, affirming caretakers.”
The board asked five departments working with foster youth to inventory and assess existing services for this population and make recommendations for new treatment models and improved training. A report is expected back in 90 days.
Solis said things were getting better for these kids, but more needed to be done.
“While we have made some deeply positive gains in achieving equality for LGBTQ people, LGBTQ youth — especially those in the child welfare or probation systems — still face discrimination, bullying, violence, and ignorance from people in their lives.”
These children have historically been harder to place than non-LGBTQ children, said Dr. Khush Cooper, who lectures on youth public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
“LBGTQ youth spend twice as much time in foster care as their non-LGBTQ counterparts,” Cooper said. “And they age out on their own at age 18. Aging out of foster care (is) associated with higher rates of homelessness, incarceration and unemployment. And you add stigma and rejection to that and the outcomes get exponentially worse.”
Julie McCormack of the Children’s Law Center of California said there was only one group home placement for LGBTQ youth countywide.
“I and my colleagues have seen firsthand the gaps in training, services, funding, recruitment and placement for the LGBTQ youth we represent, especially for our clients who are also transgender or victims of commercial sex trafficking,” McCormack told the board.
Several advocates urged the board to include young voices in the dialogue around training and programming.
“Young people identified three priorities. The first, stable housing. The second, youth justice, investment in youth development as opposed to incarceration. And third, high-quality mental health services,” said Jenny Delwood, executive vice president of the Liberty Hill Foundation, citing surveys conducted by the foundation’s youth leadership program.
Kuehl pledged that LGBTQ youth would be included in decision-making and then related her own experience.
“It’s very isolating. A lot of us were runaways. Many more were throwaways. And all of these kind of depressing statistics about the higher numbers of everything that our young people experience have to also be mentioned in the context of our resiliency, of our love. I mean, this whole minority, frankly, is about love.”