Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts #3: Protecting LGBTQ Rights in Child Welfare

Terrence Scraggins, 28, a Navy veteran and undergraduate student at Boise State University.

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 10 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C. Today we highlight the recommendation of Terrence Scraggins, 28, a Navy veteran and undergraduate student at Boise State University.

The Proposal

Scraggins, who is gay and a veteran of the United States Navy, seeks federal actions aimed at ensuring that states recruit LGBTQ people to become foster and adoptive parents, and development programs to serve the needs of LGBTQ youth in foster care.

In addition to calling for Congress to require training on the needs of these youth by foster parents and child welfare workers, Scraggins endorses the Every Child Deserves a Family Act – which prohibits any recipient of federal assistance for adoption and foster care placements from discriminating against any potential client – and the collection of data about LGBTQ youth in foster care. New data elements on this population were finalized in 2016 by the Obama administration, but the Trump administration has placed them under review.

The Argument

About 23 percent of youth in foster care identify as LGBTQ, according to the most recent iteration of the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW). Scraggins cites further NSCAW data showing that LGBTQ foster youth are far more likely to move from a first placement at the request of a caregiver.

Many of these youth arrive in foster care after being rejected for who they are by their families, Scraggins argues, “and they need foster families who are prepared to respond to their needs.”

In Their Own Words

“While in foster care, I frequently felt I was treated differently because of my sexuality, even though I never openly stated how I identified. For example, one of my foster parents told me that my male friends couldn’t share a blanket with me in the living room. Another one of my foster parents even said to me: ‘Gay people are sinners who have no direction in life.’”

The Chronicle’s Take

As we have mused before in a column, the idea of state child welfare systems collecting data on which foster youth identify as LGBTQ is not without risk. For one, it has to be voluntary, which leaves this open to a potential undercount. But more importantly, it can certainly be argued that a youth declaring their sexuality to a bunch of child welfare workers opens him or her up to biased decision making about their future.

Tools for Transformation, the most recent set of policy proposals from the Foster Youth Internship Program

But LGBTQ advocacy groups, including the Log Cabin Republicans and the Williams Institute at the UCLA Law School, support the institution of this data collection. Scraggins proposal aligns with the central motive for this collection: that it “is critical to informing future policy decisions aimed at better supporting these youth in the future.”

The Every Child Deserves a Family Act would restrict federal foster care funds for any state that tolerated discrimination by the providers it paid to recruit foster and adoptive parents. Scraggins, citing the Human Rights Campaign, points out that only 14 states currently have non-discrimination laws on the books that include sexual orientation. Meanwhile, nine states have passed laws that expressly protect faith-based child welfare providers that want to pass on recruiting same-sex couples or unmarried people.

There won’t be any to pass this bill in the present Congress, though a New York-based advocacy organization has made its eventual passage a focal point. But worse still, a bill that would do the exact opposite – penalizing states that did not permit faith-based discrimination in child welfare – was recently shoehorned into the appropriations process for this coming fiscal year.

Scraggins addressed the introduction of that bill when the FYI participants conducted a Capitol Hill briefing for Congressional staff last week.

“Please understand we appreciate your emotional support and your verbal support…but what we really need is your legislative support,” said Scraggins. “And this includes rejecting legislation that hurts the very same children and youth you’ve expressed your support for by being here today.”

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.