We were pleased that Sara Sugar’s recent article, "Struggle Amid Progress: To Be LGBTQ in Foster Care," featured on City Limits’ website, acknowledged some of the significant inroads ACS has made. But our approach to improving child welfare and juvenile justice services for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) children, young people, and adults featured in the piece deserves a closer look.
After years of intentional efforts, to keep children safe in their homes and reduce our foster care system, fewer than 11,600 children and young people are in our foster care system. Among the contributing factors to this declining census are the concerted efforts around preventive services that ACS is able to offer to families who come to our attention with known safety or risk concerns. Studies show that 26 percent of LGBTQ youth who come out to their families are forced to leave their homes. Therefore, our targeted prevention efforts rely on services like SCO Family of Services’ Family Therapy Intervention Pilot (FTIP). Funded by our sister agency, the NYC Department of Youth & Community Development (DYCD), this service offers clinical LGBTQ affirming support to families struggling to accept their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The program is one of the essential prevention resources that thousands of our child protection staff offer to families before safety concerns become elevated.
As corrected in the story, national research has found that 18-35 percent of children and youth identify as LGBTQ in foster care. When examining our juvenile justice systems, other national studies indicate that anywhere between 13-15 percent of young people in these settings identify as LGBTQ. Given that young people are either not willing, or able to disclose their sexual orientation and/or gender identity at the time they are asked, the actual numbers could be even higher. It is widely understood that LGBTQ young people are overrepresented in our systems, so ACS is launching a point-in-time LGBTQ population count and climate survey to arrive at a more reliable estimate. The goal of this survey is to ensure that we can offer programs like FTIP to as many young people and families who need these services.
ACS has also revised our juvenile justice and foster care intake processes to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (SOGIE) demographic questions along with well-being questions related to family acceptance and rejection behaviors, school bullying, and experience with homelessness, etc. Both our point-in-time survey and our revised intake process will provide New York City with a clearer sense of both the number of LGBTQ young people currently in our care, as well as what their specific needs are, leading to more appropriate service referrals and foster care placements.
The article referenced only a very limited scope of what our 2012 LGBTQ policy covers. The ultimate goal of this policy is to improve the child welfare and juvenile services we deliver to the children, young people, and families with whom we work every day, no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The policy outlines our expectations for staff, providers, foster parents, and volunteers on how to improve services through: 1) respecting non-discrimination principles as they relate to LGBTQ children, young people, and adults; 2) clarifying that the professional responsibilities of staff and providers to meet the best interests of every child we work with trumps personal biases or religious beliefs when working with LGBTQ people; 3) outlining our expectations around LGBTQ affirming foster homes; 4) connecting LGBTQ young people to only LGBTQ affirming and competent services with an explicit prohibition on any form of reparative therapy treatment; 5) enumerating our LGBTQ training requirements; and 6) providing instructions on how and when to report any form of noncompliance or questions related to the policy.
While serving as Commissioner for New York State’s Office of Children and Family Services, one of my proudest accomplishments was implementing LGBTQ-affirming policies and practices, including a landmark non-discrimination policy for transgender young people in our juvenile detention facilities, which was acknowledged as a "model for similar kinds of agencies all over the country" by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. At the City, I am committed to securing non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ children and youth and am eager to build upon the successes of improving services. There is still much work to accomplish, but I am proud of the significant work that ACS’ Office of LGBTQ Policy and Practice has already achieved. We have benefited from the extraordinary support of advocacy organizations and municipal partners as we developed this office and have become a model for many state and national child welfare, juvenile justice, and LGBTQ organizations. Given the tremendous leadership and commitment we have at ACS, coupled with the strong community collaborations we continue to strengthen, our policy expectations are closer than ever to becoming a reality.
I encourage your readers to visit our comprehensive LGBTQ Web Portal to learn more about our work. If you have further questions related to our policy, or would like to report any LGBTQ-related incident of noncompliance related, please complete our LGBTQ incident and inquiry report and submit it to LGBTQ@acs.nyc.gov.
City Limits coverage of child welfare is supported by the Ira W. DeCamp Foundation.