Monday, October 25, 2010

California takes the initiative to meet the needs of LGBTQ youth in foster care

The vast majority of states are officially silent on the issue of both LGBT foster parents and LGBT children in the foster care system. We've gotten so used to opposing the states that ban LGBT foster and adoptive parents that we may sometimes forget the difference between permitting (perhaps grudgingly) and actually supporting and nurturing.

Well along comes California to show the way. Last week the state's Department of Social Services issued an "All County Information Notice" on the subject of serving LGBTQ youth, caregivers, and prospective foster and adoptive parents. Here is the most important part:

All children and youth are best served by professionals that understand and nurture their individual needs. The LGBTQ children and youth do not have unique needs. They do, however, have distinct experiences and stressors generated by society’s misunderstanding and biases. Public and private child welfare practitioners need to increase their understanding and tailor their services and supports in ways that respect these individuals’ experiences. As part of their work, child welfare and juvenile justice professionals also can work to assist birth families, relatives, other caregivers and community partners to understand, affirm and nurture LGBTQ youth.

From there the notice provides specific links to best practices.

The phrasing of the notice is both unusual and important. It is not LGBTQ youth who have special needs. But their experiences of bias and misunderstanding are stressful and so they need understanding, affirmance and nurture from all their caregivers, and they need support and services that recognize what their experiences actually are.

Bullying of young people who are gay or perceived to be gay has been in the news recently because of several suicides. If you go to the websites of anti-gay groups, they, of course, cannot support such bullying. They admit that bullying is bad and should be discouraged. They just don't want any attention paid specifically to bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. Discourage all bullying, they say, and that's enough.

This California policy is such a welcome antidote to that mode of thinking. Foster care programs that are silent on the circumstances of the lives of LGBTQ youth will not meet the needs of those youth. They do need to have the bias and misunderstanding they face named as bias and misunderstanding. They do need to be affirmed. And that is precisely the response anti-gay groups oppose.

Kudos to California. I hope it becomes a model for other states.

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