Across the Country, Diverging Policies for LGBTQ Youth in Child Welfare System

The ways in which states and their respective child welfare agencies support LGBTQ youth varies greatly, according to a state-by-state analysis and map of child welfare systems’ policies from Lambda Legal.

Some state agencies have explicit safeguards that protect youth from discrimination on the basis of sex or gender, while other states have none at all, according to the national organization that works to promote the civil rights of the LGBTQ community. The issue has grabbed attention recently, thanks to new legislation in some states that guarantees the rights of faith-based groups. For example, earlier this year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 3859, which permits faith-based organizations to withhold certain child-welfare services when there are “circumstances that conflict with the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The map classifies states into five major categories based on whether or not they have the following: no explicit child welfare-specific protections, only sex (or gender) protections, sexual orientation and gender protections, sexual orientation and gender identity protections or LGBTQ-specific policies.

For example, according to Lambda Legal’s analysis, Alabama has no statutory-, regulatory- or policy-based protections for youth involved in child welfare. In fact, the state has a “religious exemption” law that allows any religiously affiliated providers to deny services to prospective parents or youth whom they morally or religiously object.

Other states, such as Pennsylvania and Missouri, have protections against the discrimination of gender or sexual orientation but not gender identity or expression. California, on the other hand, has statues and regulations against discrimination on the basis of a child’s sexual orientation and the child’s gender expression or identity. Also, California laws allow transgender youth to be placed in out-of-home care that concurs with their gender identity.

Further, the report found that only ten states have LGBTQ-specific policies. For instance, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services details that children in care have the right to both “be free from discrimination or harassment on the basis of … sex, sexual orientation [and] gender identity [and] have caregivers and child welfare personnel who have received instruction on … best practices for serving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.”

Lambda Legal’s research demonstrates that some states have enacted policies to protect LGBTQ youth from discrimination. However, there are still too many where LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system do not have security or support.

Click here to view the map.

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Stephanie Pham
About Stephanie Pham 16 Articles
Stephanie is a summer fellow for The Chronicle of Social Change and Fostering Media Connections as part of Stanford University's Haas Center for Public Service fellowship program.