Kenneth Jones, like many teenagers, does well in school, stays out of trouble and wants desperately to be loved

, by someone. However, Kenneth is not like many other teenagers in that he is both in the foster care system and gay. After being kicked out of 48 foster homes in four years and being constantly bullied in group settings, he was placed with a homophobic foster father who threatened to kill him after Kenneth brought home his first real boyfriend. Stories like Kenneth’s are all too common. Mother Jones of December 2010 reports that our growing acceptance of LGBT adults has made it easier for gay and lesbian youth to come out of the closet at an earlier age. Unfortunately, the foster care system offers little to no support for openly gay boys and girls like Kenneth. Cindy Watson, the director of a gay youth center in Jacksonville, Florida, states “Kids are questioning their sexual orientation more nowadays. And the foster care system is not a safe place to experience that.” Our governments have a fiduciary responsibility to protect these unprotected and misunderstood youth. To better understand this, we must first describe the problems LGBT teens face in the foster care system; next, examine their causes; and finally, explore some solutions to help fix this already broken system. The crisis facing LGBT youth in foster care illuminates two main problems. First, the inability to care and protect LGBT youth because of ignorance, second a lack of supportive foster homes. First, like Kenneth, most LGBT youth in the foster care system face a general lack of knowledge about the LGBT community which leads to ongoing discrimination. These youth experience adolescence very differently than other kids their age. Most struggle with acceptance and fitting in as an adolescent, but LGBT kids suffer through this even more. According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, GLSN, in its research study published September 14 th, 2010, LGBT adolescents require even more support, acceptance and reassurance from close family and

friends during their teenage years because this is when many of them face the traumatic time of coming out and all of the challenges this brings with it. Unfortunately, child welfare workers do not take into account the childs sexual orientation when placing them in a home. The ignorance about these kids leads to a lot of discrimination and conflict within foster families that leads to bullying. The Press- Telegram of October 10, 2010 explains that almost all LGBT teens in foster care have reported forms of verbal and physical abuse. For instance, 70 percent have been subjected to violence; Moreover, 100 percent reported harassment in their group home. These constant discrimination has lead to youth being sometimes housed in isolation for their own safety or blamed for being harassed because they openly express their sexual orientation. Many social workers downplay the severity of this problem, claiming it is “just a part of growing up.” And thus, the discrimination continues within the foster family. The Huffington Post of October 18 th, 2010 stated that nearly 80% of LGBT youth in foster care end up being kicked out or run away, due to some issue regarding their sexuality. Second, LGBT youth have few options for foster or adoptive families. In a September, 17 th 2010 Next Magazine article, Daniel Siford, an activist for LGBT youth in foster care, explained that even willing and loving foster parents are often unsure of how to deal with the unique struggles of raising a LGBT teen or how to deal with their emotional troubles. In 2010, the Boys Home Association surveyed 246 families in Jacksonville, Florida, and found only 21 that would accept an openly LGBT foster child. Moreover, youth in foster care typically face emotional, physical or sexual abuse early on in their lifetimes, as noted on AdoptionIssues.org on December 1 st, 2010. Many of these issues require tremendous support and patience from loving and support adults. But even social workers have difficulty finding them acceptable homes because of their needs.

The missing support for LGBT kids in foster care is largely caused by two factors. First, missing regulation in the foster care system; and second, legislation. First, the foster care system simply does not have the rules on the books to protect LGBT youth. According to fosterparenting.com, last updated February 9th, 2011, there are no regulations within federal and most state laws that specifically protect LGBT children. Thus, discrimination of these young people is inevitable. However, this lack of regulation regarding the treatment of kids in foster care extends way beyond just LGBT youth, but children with any condition that makes them unique or unlike the average foster child. Disabled children often find foster care to be equally difficult because no laws protect them either. When these situations are not monitored, abuses are commonplace. It’s no wonder that, according to the National Association of Social Workers, in 2010, that 80% of prison inmates went through the foster care system. When we don’t protect a significant number of kids in the system, they certainly aren’t going to get the support they need to become productive citizens. Second, many families would be able to empathize with LGBT youth because they themselves have faced the struggles of coming out. Lesbian and gay couples could help LGBT kids in the foster care system, but legislation in several states prevents them from doing so. WSVN News reported on September 23, 2010 that states like Utah show why there is little support for LGBT youth in foster care. According to state law in Utah, both adoption and being foster parents are illegal for LGBT couples. While the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force points out that there are only three states that specifically deny this right to gay couples, almost all other states leave this issue up to judges who bring their own personal biases into the courtroom. This creates a grey area. The rights of LGBT couples to serve as foster parents are left in the hands of whatever judge they happen to see. Moreover, the foster care system sends a message to LGBT kids that they are infe-

rior people when they deny rights like becoming a foster parent to other LGBT citizens. This provides few outlets for troubled LGBT youth who need supportive, understanding foster homes or adoptive parents. Growing up as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered child is difficult with adequate support. It is nearly impossible to do so with none at all. Fortunately, we can examine what can be done to solve these problems on both the governmental and personal levels. First, it is time that our governments make reforming the foster care system a priority. We must get behind bills on both the federal and state levels that would help add regulation to the foster care system and help protect kids like Kenneth from future harm. The Patriot News reported on October 19th, 2010 that the recently passed Children in Foster Care Act in Pennsylvania will ensure that Child welfare workers, foster parents and foster kids both know the rights and regulations of the foster care system. While this isn’t changing existing regulations, it is helping ensure that the current rules are followed. More importantly, anti-discrimination laws must be implemented in the foster care system. Just as our states are adding anti-discrimination laws in schools due to the rapid rise in bullying cases, we must do the same in the foster care system. Additionally, in my research, this was the only bill even being proposed in legislation on state and governmental levels. As a voting member of society, know what your candidates are supporting and proposing. Because this is an issue that has gone unnoticed for far too long. On the personal level, we must step up and defend the rights of LGBT young people in the foster care system. Thus, I urge you to consider becoming a Guardian Ad Litem for a LGBT kid in the system. According to GuardianAdLitem.org, last updated February 1, 2011, people who serve as a guardian ad litem offer support to foster kids by representing their best interest in court. Thus,

if a LGBT teen in foster care is facing abuse, neglect or bullying, he or she has an intermediary to communicate these problems to the court so that a solution can be easily and quickly reached. It allows you to make a direct impact in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered teens in the foster care system. Today we have explored the problems facing LGBT kids in the foster care system, identified some causes, and finally discussed solutions to improve an already difficult situation. We must understand that Kenneth’s story is all too tragic, because it is so familiar. Unfortunately, very little has been done to help him and other LGBT youth alike. The time to act is now. Finally, with focused attention and increased help, GLBT foster kids throughout the nation can what everyone should have: a family.

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