Embracing Inclusive and Affirming Care For LGBTQIA+ Youth in Foster Care

Author: Ginette Rhodes

If you are thinking about or have already become a foster or adoptive parent, it’s important to understand the landscape of foster and adoptive care is more diverse than ever. In fact, one in three youth identify as LGBTQIA+ in foster care compared to 10% of the general population. It’s probable your child(ren) may identify as LGBTQIA+ before or after adoption; it’s crucial to practice affirming care, and we are here to help. Fortunately, caregivers have many opportunities to learn inclusive and culturally competent techniques that prioritize the emotional well-being of the child(ren). The Coalition offers a range of support groups to help parents navigate challenges and build confidence in their ability to provide affirming care for their families.

Youth Acceptance Project (YAP) at the Coalition:

The Coalition has recently introduced a new program offered by The Youth Acceptance Project (YAP) that aims to provide foster and adoptive parents with the necessary tools to create a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTQIA+ children. This program includes valuable insights into gender and sexual orientation diversity, common concerns faced by LGBTQIA+ youth, and strategies for providing affirming care.

YAP utilizes compassionate and nonjudgmental techniques. Parents come to us with varying levels of knowledge and understanding about LGBTQIA+ identities and experiences. Regardless of their starting point, we welcome all parents into the program and provide them with resources and best practices to support their children comprehensively. Our approach is rooted in sensitivity to the potential traumas and struggles that LGBTQIA+ youth may have encountered. We strive to create an atmosphere of safety and understanding for parents to replicate in their homes. Every child deserves to feel loved and accepted for who they are, and we are committed to helping parents make that a reality.

Why Acceptance Matters:

When a child identifies as LGBTQIA+, they view their identity as a central part of who they are. If they experience rejection from a parental figure, the child feels that their entire being is rejected, not just their identity. Rejection is particularly significant for foster and adoptive care youth, as it contributes to low self-esteem and a range of mental health issues, from mild to severe and even life-threatening (Family Project). A study by the Trevor Project found that LGBTQIA+ youth in foster care were three times more likely to report past suicide attempts than those not said to have been in foster care.

Trevor Project Research Brief May 2021

Suggestions for Practicing Affirming Care:

  • Ask your child about preferred pronouns and encourage other family members and friends to use them.
  • Give them space to express themselves and build their confidence by complimenting them if they try a new style that may have been outside their comfort zone.
  • Engage them in conversations about their dating life and practice active listening.
  • Spend time with them and continue to strengthen your bond.
  • Attend training sessions like those hosted by YAP to gain cultural competency skills.

A Realistic Illustration:

It’s a Tuesday afternoon in June, and your child comes home from high school eager to put down their backpack and relax in their room. You assume the day will proceed as usual. After completing their homework, they eventually come to the living room, snuggle under a blanket, and watch Netflix before dinner. To your surprise, today is different. After going to their room, your child comes downstairs to meet you at your desk. You had planned to finish a few remaining work tasks before preparing carne asada for taco night.

Since they have your attention, you notice they seem more nervous than usual. They anxiously avoid eye contact before mustering the courage to share, “I was hesitant to tell you this at first, but I feel I need to fully express who I am.” They take a deep breath and continue, “I’ve always known deep down that I was different. Now I know, and I’m ready to fully embrace my truth. Mom, I’m non-binary and sexually fluid. This means I don’t identify as male or female; instead, I see myself as more expansive than gender binaries and norms. I’ve realized I’m sexually fluid because the people I’m attracted to change over time and are often situational. For example, yesterday, I realized I’m in love with this queer girl in my math class. I know you’re used to me dating boys. I’m telling you this because I want to be fully accepted as I embrace this part of who I am.” They search your eyes as they await your response.

Honestly, you’re in shock. Yes, your child typically dresses in a gender-neutral manner, but you never gave it much thought. You decide to lean in and invite your child to make dinner with you so you can learn more about how they discovered this new truth about themselves and what support they may need moving forward. You assure them that you love them and fully accept them for who they are.

After dinner, you make a note to call the Coalition in the morning to schedule participation in an upcoming YAP Session for additional resources and guidance.

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