Finding Homes for LGBTQ Children

In the U.S. foster care system, thousands of LGBTQ children in need of adoptive placements are passed by in favor of their straight counterparts.
When foster children turn 18 (or sometimes 21) years old without an adoptive placement, they “age out” of care. The courts and foster care agencies then relinquish custody. Many of these new adults have no professional skills or experience, and some have little formal education. Aging out leaves these 18-year-olds poor, unemployed, and without social supports.
Roughly 23,000 children aged out of the foster system in 2013 in the United States, according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Certainly, all foster children face unique situations and hardships, but identifying as a member of the LGBTQ community creates a prominent obstacle in finding options for foster placement and adoption, according to a local social worker who helps place children in homes.
The Midwest Foster Care & Adoption Association (MFCAA) is a support and advocacy center for abused and neglected children in the Kansas City area. Jennifer Townsend, a social worker for MFCAA, believes that many factors contribute to the large number of foster children aging out. Being a member of the LGBTQ community, she says, is one of them.
LGBTQ youth also are historically overrepresented in U.S. foster care systems. Recent studies have suggested that roughly 20 percent of foster children in the United States identify as something other than heterosexual; in the general youth population, only an estimated 5-10 percent identify as LGBTQ.
This overrepresentation is caused in large part by families of LGBTQ children who have an intolerant, negligent, and sometimes abusive response to the children’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Because LGBTQ children are overrepresented in the foster system and are less likely to be placed than other children, it only follows that a disproportionate number of foster children who age out of the system are members of the LGBTQ community. A study that covered three Midwestern states found that the percentage of young adults who age out and who do not identify as heterosexual is as high as 24 percent for females and 10 percent for males.
“It happens much more to LGBTQ youth,” Townsend says. “When they exit the system, an LGBTQ youth is more likely to be forced to turn to things like sex acts for survival, couch-surfing and general homelessness.”
She said that aged-out foster children face difficulties in navigating day-to-day issues such as insurance and medical care.
“Often when our kids age out, they’ll go years without seeing a doctor,” she says. “They never learned how to do it themselves.”
Cases of LGBTQ children who have been rejected by their families and who are struggling in the foster system occur in Kansas City and beyond. Townsend is now working with a 12-year-old transgender girl who has already been in foster care for more than a year.
“All of my children are difficult to place,” Townsend says. “[Her gender identity> is just one factor working against her in finding a permanent home. … It’s one more thing that takes down her number of possible placements.”
Townsend describes this child as an attention-loving fireball of energy in spite of her di fficult situation. A budding thespian, she loves to sing and dance almost as much as she loves being in front of an audience. Townsend also reports being impressed by her level of empathy and passion for issues such as bullying and discrimination, specifically against LGBTQ people.
Along with her colleagues, Townsend is searching for a family to take in the passionate, energetic thespian. An ideal family, Townsend believes, would truly want the experience of parenting this child.
“She needs someone who is going to love her and support her, and who is going to advocate for her. Because she’s going to need a lot of advocacy,” she said.
The Midwest Foster Care &amp

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