Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people are over-represented in foster care, where they are more likely to experience discrimination, abuse, neglect and the risk of harm. A survey by the Williams Institute found 13.6 percent of youth in foster care identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and 5.6 percent as transgender, compared to 7.2 percent and 2.25 percent of the general youth population.

LGBTQ youth are more likely to suffer from consistent harassment and abuse in foster care, juvenile justice settings and homeless shelters. At times, they’re subjected to dangerous efforts that falsely claim to change their orientation or gender identity, including so-called “conversion therapy.” These incidents are particularly pervasive with transgender youth, whose very identities are rejected in state care, and who, when bullied and abused, are often criminalized for acting in their own self-defense.

Without safe foster care placements, and without the vital support of caseworkers and other child welfare professionals, LGBTQ youth often flee abuse in foster care only to face homelessness and sexual exploitation.

The Williams Institute also found that around 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. In New York, birthplace of the modern gay rights movement, studies show some 78 percent of LGBTQ youth were removed or ran away from foster homes because of the hostilities they faced, and 56 percent chose to live on the street–rather than in a foster care placement–because they felt safer there. The U.S. National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that LGBTQ homeless youth are roughly 7.4 times more likely to suffer acts of sexual violence than heterosexual homeless youth.

LGBTQ young adults are also overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. While LGBTQ youth comprise only an estimated 5-7 percent of the overall youth population in the United States, they represent 13-15 percent of those currently in the juvenile justice system. Findings show that, when compared with their heterosexual and cisgender peers, LGBTQ youth in the juvenile justice system are twice as likely to have experienced child abuse, group and foster care placement, and homelessness.

Children’s Rights, Lambda Legal and the Center for the Study of Social Policy recently released Safe Havens: Closing the Gap Between Recommended Practice and Reality for Transgender and Gender-Expansive Youth in Out-of-Home Care. The report offers the first comprehensive analysis of the troubling lack of explicit laws and policies in most states to protect transgender, gender expansive and gender non-conforming (TGNC) youth in the child welfare, juvenile justice, and runaway and homeless youth systems (“out-of-home care systems”). It also profiles and provides recommendations from six TGNC youth who experienced affirmation in out-of-home care systems and four providers – a family acceptance program, a shelter for homeless youth, a detention facility and a foster care agency – who affirm TGNC youth in their programs.

This past summer, Children’s Rights and Lambda Legal presented the report at the CWLA 2017 National Conference. In addition, CR has raised awareness by contributing an op-ed in LGBT Weekly, speaking at conferences including the 12th Annual Emory Public Interest Conference and the 39th National Child Welfare, Juvenile and Family Law Conference, and participating in panel discussions with key stakeholders in the LGBTQ community. CR has received a grant to continue and expand upon their advocacy work with the report, which will include examining how target states can use the findings from the report to implement reform in their out-of-home systems to improve protections for TGNC youth.