Jason Cherkis has a heavy piece in Mother Jones shining a light on the stark reality faced by gay teens who end up in the foster care/group home system. These kids already come from unfriendly, harsh environments, and then are faced with the fact that many foster parents don’t want gay kids, the system doesn’t have the resources to support them, and the bullying they face in the system is often far worse than what “normal” gay kids go through.
Please read the whole thing, but here’s a taste:
According to the American Bar Association’s 2008 guidebook for child-welfare lawyers and judges, virtually all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning kids in group homes had reported verbal harassment; 70 percent had been subjected to violence; and 78 percent had either run away or been removed from a foster placement for reasons related to their sexuality. “They are the one population thrown out of their home because of who they are,” says Gerald P. Mallon, a professor at New York’s Hunter College School of Social Work.
The crisis facing gay foster kids hasn’t gone entirely unnoticed. The Child Welfare League of America publishes guidelines on the subject for social workers, and several states have taken baby steps: California passed a foster-care nondiscrimination law (PDF); New Jersey has established “safe zones” for gay youth; and Illinois, Connecticut, and New York have hired dedicated staffers to help them. But child-welfare agencies are only as good as their foster families—and many foster families refuse to take a gay child. Jerry Walters, vice president for foster-care services with the Jacksonville-based Boys’ Home Association, says his organization recently surveyed its 246 families and found only 21 who were willing to accept a gay teenager. Attorneys Linda Diaz and Kristin Kimmel (PDF)—who run a project focusing on gay issues for the nonprofit Lawyers for Children Inc.—told me that openly gay kids in New York are typically put into group homes instead of foster care. In New Orleans, gay teenagers deemed “ungovernable” by their biological families sometimes end up in juvenile hall.
Even Connecticut—which works closely with True Colors, a nonprofit dedicated to helping gay kids in the system—has a heck of a time finding them a home. They tend to “have lots of other issues,” explains Robin McHaelen, executive director of True Colors. “They’re not cute little Matthew Shepard kids.”
If you read the whole piece, Cherkis tells the stories of specific kids in the system, and it’s scary and sad. Obviously much more needs to be done for these kids, as they are, it seems, a forgotten subset of an already widely forgotten population.