At Amara, we believe that we have a role in supporting youth in foster care to thrive by supporting relationships and authentic connections that center Black, Brown, Indigenous, and LGBTQIA+ identities.
Black, Brown, Indigenous, and LGBTQIA+ youth are disproportionately removed from their families and placed into the child welfare system. When youth enter foster care, there is often a revolving door of strangers they meet each day: social workers, attorneys, medical providers, and the new place they call home with their foster family.
With each new person they meet, LGBTQIA+ youth take a significant risk when – or if – they share their identities. Most of the time, they don’t know how they will be received. Will I be welcomed and celebrated for who I am? Will I be “accepted” as long as I don’t talk about it? Will I be rejected? Or, will my psychological or physical safety be threatened?
No young person should ever have to fear how their caregivers, especially when entering foster care, will treat them. Youth in foster care – like all people – should have love, connection, and a supportive and affirming home environment.
As a Child Placing Agency – an organization that licenses and supports foster and kinship families – Amara has an obligation to ensure that our families can provide holistic care for youth, including ensuring young people feel safe, supported, and affirmed across their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expressions.
We don’t expect all potential foster and kinship families to come to us 100% prepared to provide temporary care to youth of all different backgrounds and identities. So, we talk about these topics with every family, and we make sure that when concepts are new or unclear, everyone gets training so that they are ready to support kids to be their full selves. It takes time and resources, and it’s an investment we believe is worth it to ensure we can improve youth wellbeing and reduce the trauma foster care too often perpetuates.
After years of making this commitment to being an affirming and inclusive organization, we find that foster and kinship families can and will provide welcoming, safe, and supportive homes to LGBTQIA+ youth. This is true even when families come to us with a lot to learn. By providing training on these concepts globally, then working one-on-one on specific needs once a youth is in their home, foster and kinship families can successfully create these spaces for LGBTQIA+ youth in foster care.
As a result, we have seen young people explore their gender identities and expressions openly and with support. This has looked like a pre-school-aged male-presenting child sharing a desire to wear nail polish and dresses, and a tween youth coming out as trans on their first night in their new placement. In both cases, our foster families were ready and prepared to walk alongside each young person. Our goal is that this is the standard – that all youth in foster care know they are safe to exist as they are and that all their beautiful qualities will be met with kindness, affirmation, and celebration.
Sadly, this is not the universal experience for all youth in foster care. If we – as community members and the people with power to make change – don’t step-up and step-in, the global and individual wellbeing of LGBTQIA+ youth in foster care remains at serious risk.
Systems are terrible at taking care of people, and foster care is a big, complicated system. We don’t have time to wait to rely on a system alone to improve the foster care experience for LGBTQIA+ youth. Let’s work together, learn, and do better. Young people deserve that much from us.
Are you wondering what you can do to make a difference?
- Volunteer to be a mentor and be a shining spot in a young person’s life – show them that there is love and affirmation out here.
- Support Safe Place organizations for LGBTQIA+ youth.
- Become a foster parent for older youth, or a kinship caregiver for a relative you heard might be entering foster care.
- Speak up, engage in necessary conversations with your friends, your family, your colleagues about the specific experiences and issues that LGBTQIA+ youth live with every day.
- Advocate for policy and practice to align around the necessity of all caregivers being a safe place for any youth that comes through their door. Demand that all policy be informed directly by youth with these experiences.