LGBTQIA+ Youth in the Child Welfare System

(June 14, 2024)

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 30% of children in foster care in the United States identify as LGBTQ+. This means that LGBTQ+ youth are drastically overrepresented in the child welfare system compared to the general youth population in the U.S., where only 11.2% of youth identify as LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ youth also experience disparities from their non-LGBTQ+ peers after they have been removed from their homes. Studies have found that LGBTQ+ have to go through more placements in child welfare than their peers. They are also more likely to end up in congregate care settings.

This disparity faced by LGBTQ+ youth is, needless to say, one we are paying attention to in our ongoing Ending the Need for Group Placement (ENGP) work. In fact, Allegheny County is one of the first places in the country to collect data on the sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression (SOGIE) of youth who are involved with CYF. This was as part of the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s getREAL initiative.

According to data from Allegheny County CYF, 10% of youth ages 10-18 actively involved with the department identify as LGBTQ+. Obviously, this is less than the 30% reported nationwide. A partial explanation for this could be that 25% of Allegheny County CYF youth have had no SOGIE data recorded. SOGIE data is self-reported by youth, and in the already stressful situation of a CYF interaction, it is easy to see how a young person may not feel comfortable disclosing that information to a caseworker, who would then be responsible for recording it. Allegheny County has LGBTQ+ Standards of Practice, which cover topics such as safety concerns surrounding conversations on gender and sexuality, housing LGBTQ+ individuals, and gender-affirming care for youth in the system.

The Human Rights Campaign’s report on LGBTQ+ Youth in the Foster Care System includes recommendations for policymakers, agency administrators, and child welfare professionals. Allegheny County CYF is already well on its way by collecting SOGIE data and having explicit policies for serving LGBTQ+ individuals. Allies for Children will continue to build upon the excellent work that the county has already done in our child welfare work.

Laura Condon, Allies for Children Project Coordinator