A large-scale survey found that more than one out of three youths ages 13 to 20 in New York City foster care identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, agender or asexual and intersex and that those youth are more frequently young people of color.
The purpose of the Columbia University study was to estimate what proportion of the population of young people in foster care identified themselves in these categories, and to assess the differences in their experiences in foster care and in life — including well-being, placement stability and emotional wellness — from other youth in foster care.
Experiences and Well-Being of Sexual and Gender Diverse Youth in Foster Care in New York City found that youth who defined themselves within these categories of sexual orientation and gender identity are overrepresented in foster care, and that they reported experiences and quality of life that were significantly worse than their peers across a number of measures. New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) contracted with Theo Sandfort, a professor of clinical sociomedical science in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, to conduct the study, which was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Redlich Horwitz Foundation and supported by the New York City Unity Project and the First Lady of New York City.
ACS has released an action plan in response to the report that calls for the agency to strengthen and increase staff training, customize support, recruit foster parents and take other steps to improve the experiences of LGBTQ youth.
Sandra Gasca-Gonzalez, vice president for the Center for Systems Innovation at the Casey Foundation, applauded ACS for taking action on the report. She said its results “illustrate the urgent need for child welfare systems to support families and adults to actively eliminate the bias, stigma and discrimination that these young people face not just in child welfare, but in society.”
The study found that:
- More than one-third of youth (34.1%) ages 13 to 20 in New York City foster care are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, agender or asexual and intersex.
- These youth found family members to be less supportive than their peers and were less likely to report that there were adults in their lives, other than family members, whom they could rely on and by whom they felt supported.
- Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, agender or asexual and intersex youth were more likely to have been homeless and to have had negative confrontations with the police.
- These youth were more likely to live in group homes, to be less satisfied with their child welfare system experience and to say that they had no control over what happened to them in foster care.
To make the foster care system safer for youth and to improve their well-being, the study recommends the following:
- Youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, agender or asexual and intersex should receive additional support in the foster care system. Young people should have access to an environment that validates their identities so they can openly discuss their experiences, and benefit from programs and services designed with their needs in mind.
- The foster care community should take action to understand this group of young people, along with the issues and challenges they face. Social workers, foster parents and institutional staff should be aware of issues that can affect youth as a result of their sexual and gender diversity, so they can proactively address common challenges.
- Further research must be conducted on the topic, particularly in relation to intersectional identities. Few public child welfare agencies collect sexual orientation, gender identity and expression data, and there are a limited number of large-scale studies. The report’s authors urge further investigation, especially on the interpersonal relationships youths have with peers and adults, the resources they employ to overcome difficulties and the intersectional factors that affect their experiences, including race, ethnicity and socio-economic status.
Download the report