In a unanimous vote, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday passed a motion aimed at improving the experience and outcomes for LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system.
“[It’s] amazing to see folks from across L.A. County really in support of LGBTQ rights,” said Jenny Dang Vinopal, executive director of the National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI), a nonprofit that organized youth advocates to address the board ahead of vote at Tuesday’s meeting. “The young people spoke and the Board of Supervisors heard.”
The motion, co-authored by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, directs five county agencies that have high contact with systems-involved LGBTQ youth to identify and assess the existing programs, services and training focused on serving this group. The county’s child welfare, probation, and health agencies must report back to the board in three months with an inventory of the services already in place and suggestions for further resources and training needed.
This move by the county follows a 2014 report from the Williams Institute that found LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in L.A.’s child welfare system and that their experiences are worse than their non-LGBTQ peers in the system. According to the report, 19 percent of foster youth identify as LGBTQ; outside of foster care, 7 to 8 percent of youth identify as LGBTQ. On average, LGBTQ foster youth move placements more often and are significantly more likely to be hospitalized for emotional reasons, live in a group home setting, and struggle with homelessness.
In response to this data, the county hired consultants to identify how these issues could be best addressed. The major takeaway from this “LGBTQ Preparedness Scan,” Kuehl said, was a need for more in-depth and widespread training around working with LGBTQ youth and their families, as well as greater integration between the county departments who interface with this group.
“Each one of these departments, in its own way, is paying attention to this population, but there has not been a lot of coordination or overview,” Kuehl said in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change.
Several LGBTQ youth advocates with system involvement shared their experiences with the board on Tuesday, as well as recommendations for tailoring the motion.
“I am here to encourage the board to do as much as they can do to improve service outcomes for LGBTQ youth,” said Dayvon Williams, one of the youth advocates who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting. “I entered the foster care system when I was 3 years old, at a very young age in my childhood, and moved from probably over eight or nine different houses during my lifetime and I was bullied at school. I couldn’t find myself on my own without mentors.”
Several of the other youth said they, like Williams, didn’t have anyone they felt they could talk to as they struggled with understanding their sexual identities, despite having foster families and, often, multiple social workers engaging with them.
Kuehl, who is the first openly gay member of the Board of Supervisors, spoke to this point as well.
“One of the interesting things about our LGBTQ minority is that where many minorities grow up with people who look like them, who sound like them, who have the same experience and life experience as they do, for the most part, we don’t. It’s very isolating. A lot of us are runaways, many more are throwaways,” she said.
Joshua Arguellez, a 16-year-old high school junior, spoke to the need for focused training on how to talk to foster youth about their sexuality. Before he came out as gay, he said, he was assigned an LGBTQ social worker by the county Department of Children and Family Services. It was done without any discussion, and left him feeling self-conscious rather than supported.
Every youth advocate and service provider who spoke to the board urged the supervisors to ensure LGBTQ youth voices were represented at every level of these policy discussions.
Kuehl, responding to those who spoke, vowed to personally ensure each of the departments “incorporate people with lived experience” as they move forward with directives of this motion and the actions to follow.
“It was really awesome to see progress within the LGBTQ community because not that long ago we didn’t even have rights,” Marciellia Goodrich, a foster youth advocate with NFYI, told The Chronicle. “It’s good to see someone doing that for us.”