Even under normal circumstances, child welfare systems can be a fraught environment for LGBTQ+ youth. Like all young people in these systems, they must cope with the abuse and neglect they may have suffered at the hands of their caregivers. But LGBTQ+ youth are at higher risk of additional harms, including discrimination, institutionalization, and even abuse within the system. They are more likely to age out without ever achieving permanency. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates these risks. It wreaks havoc on the fragile dynamics that protect these youth, and will undoubtedly continue to have a significant impact on them and child welfare systems for years to come.
This report was developed with extensive input from young people currently or formerly in foster care and young people currently or formerly experiencing homelessness who identify as LGBTQ+, and direct service workers. We identify how the pandemic is amplifying some of the risks for LGBTQ+ youth in child welfare systems and propose practices to mitigate them. Now, more than ever, LGBTQ+ young people must be protected.
The report highlights how the discrimination, institutionalization, and abuse that LGBTQ+ youth already face are exacerbated by COVID-19:
- Heightened risk of abuse: A large percentage of LGBTQ+ youth have reported physical violence at the hands of a family member, and child abuse is known to increase during economic crises.
- Placement in congregate care: The number of foster homes available is dwindling, forcing more youth into group homes and other facilities where they face a greater risk of COVID infection.
- Homelessness: Older youth in care, or who recently aged out of care, have been confronted with housing insecurity and disruptions to their educations due to the pandemic’s closure of college and university campuses.
- Heightened health risks: LGBTQ+ youth face increased discrimination and a lack of understanding from health care workers, making them less likely to seek medical attention.
- Poverty and unemployment: LGBTQ+ youth who had already experienced alarming rates of need and instability are likely to be disproportionately impacted by the economic downturn.