Panel and Q&A on what it takes to care for LGBTQ homeless youth
By: Audrey Cole/Reporter—
BOSTON—Alarming statistics and highly disproportionate numbers of LGBTQ youth in the foster care system has prompted one local businesswoman and foster parent to tackle the issue head-on through an event and panel titled, Caring for Our Own: LGBTQ Adults Supporting LGBTQ Foster Youth.
“There is a scarcity of foster homes who accept youth in general,” said event creator Kristen Porter of Kristen Porter Presents and Haus of Porter. “LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system due to family rejection and are at a higher risk for discrimination once in the system. Efforts are made to educate foster parents of all identities about LGBTQ issues, but that doesn’t address the fact that there are not enough homes willing to take youth.”
Porter, also an HIV/AIDS activist and philanthropist, explained the importance of LGBTQ adults becoming a part of the solution.
“I titled the event ‘Caring for Our Own’ because we know how to do this well; we cared for our own during the AIDS epidemic when no one else would,” she said. “One aspect of our resilience was creating families of choice as a response to familial rejection experienced by people with HIV/AIDS. Who better to care for our own and create families of choice for LGBTQ youth than LGBTQ adults?”
Critical need to help LGBTQ youth
According to Corey Prachniak-Rincón, Director of the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth, there are two critical reasons to address the specific needs of LGBTQ youth in foster care.
“First, it’s likely that LGBTQ youth are more likely to be involved in the foster care system due to facing rejection from their family of origin,” they said. “And second, once they’re in the foster care system, they’re more likely to have projects and face rejection again at their foster care placement. So these youth, who have already faced trauma, stigma, and instability, are just re-victimized as they get pushed from one home to another. It’s really devastating and it’s completely preventable with training and resources.”
The event panel, which is comprised of a number of Foster Care experts such as individuals from the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE) the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF), LGBTQ youth experts and LGBTQ youth currently in the system, will offer invaluable insight to attendees considering fostering an LGBTQ youth.
“My role on the panel is to share my experience as a foster parent and hopefully inspire more LGBTQ adults to consider fostering or adopting LGBTQ youth,” Porter, added. “When people find out that we foster LGBTQ youth, the response is often some form of ‘I wish I could do something like that.’ There are misconceptions that in order to be a foster or an adoptive parent you need to be partnered, or own a home, or be able to stay at home, or that it is expensive, or that it has to be long term. The panelists from DCF and MARE will dispel myths and demystify the process.”
Effie Molina, Family Resource Supervisor and State Chair of the DCF LGBTQ Liaisons explained the various stipends provided to foster parents.
“DCF provides a daily stipend and a clothing allowance every 3 months for each foster child in your home,” she said. “The amount is determined by their ages.”
According to a DCF chart provided to The Rainbow Times, the daily stipend ranges from $23.21 for the youngest age group and up to $27.47 for the older age group. Likewise, the clothing allowance rages from $238.75 – $296.25.
“You’ll also receive $50 to help pay for a birthday gift and $100 for holiday gifts for each foster child each year,” said Molina, who is also a panelist. “You may also be reimbursed for other expenses in special circumstances depending on your foster child’s needs.”
MassHealth provides all foster children with health, dental, mental health insurance and some medication coverage, Molina listed.
120 percent higher risk
A national research study, Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America, conducted by the University of Chicago found that “young people experiencing homelessness are most likely to be African-American, Latinx and/or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer (LGBTQ). LGBTQ youth had a 120 percent higher risk of experiencing homelessness than youth who identified as heterosexual and cisgender.”
Panelist Prachniak-Rincón, explained the dire consequences when the system fails LGBTQ youth.
“As the only state agency dedicated to LGBTQ youth, the Commission is working with a wide array of allies to try to improve this situation and ensure the safety of these youth,” they said. “Because when the foster care system fails them, they’re even more likely to wind up homeless, in the justice system, facing health disparities, or otherwise at risk.”
Trans & Non-binary youth
Transgender and non-binary youth face particular challenges to find foster placement.
“When area offices have difficulty finding placement for an LGBTQ youth, they often send an e-mail to the LGBTQ Liaisons for ideas and assistance,” said Molina. “In the last few years, the vast majority of these have been regarding locating a home for transgender and non-binary youth.”
“Transgender youth are especially prone to facing issues in the foster care system,” said Prachniak-Rincón. “Of course, there are the challenges that come from youth who are identified by others as being of one gender when they are placed and actually identify, or come to identify, as a different gender. The safety and privacy of these youth is really in jeopardy when they are not in a competent and accepting place when this occurs.”
Ensuring competent medical care for transgender youth is also a hurdle to overcome, Prachniak-Rincón explained.
“Medical access is another big problem for trans youth in the system,” they said. “To date, these youth have not been guaranteed access to medically-necessary care that affirms their identity and protects their wellbeing, and that should be a top concern for the state. These youth are the state’s responsibility, and it’s not always meeting that responsibility.”
Additionally, Porter expressed concern for trans youth when gender affirmation is not always required.
“… The system often designates room sharing and group homes by sex assigned at birth. For example, a transgender boy would likely be housed in a group home for girls,” she said.
Prachniak-Rincón said that the Commission has issued “very detailed and researched policy recommendations to the state on how to improve the foster care system.”
Part of those recommendations include recording significant data to help LGBTQ youth be placed in affirming households and implementing policies created specifically to meet the needs and help to alleviate some of the dangers for LGBTQ youth in the system.
“We believe that LGBTQ youth need a stand-alone policy solidifying the best practices for providing them with care,” Prachniak-Rincón said. “And we believe that when parents come forward and say, ‘We’re LGBTQ-affirming—we’d love to provide a home for an LGBTQ youth’—that that information is actually being recorded and used. The state needs to collect this data and use it to give youth a safe place to live. This is really low-hanging fruit to improve the dangerous situation that LGBTQ youth find themselves in, and it’s a real shame that nothing is being done in a centralized way. Way too much responsibility falls on individuals in the system to figure out which placements are LGBTQ-competent and to make that happen.”
Molina offers some pro tips for potential foster parents.
“I would say that some qualities of a successful foster parent include kind, nurturing, patient, willing to learn and a good communicator,” explained Molina, whose unit recruits, trains, licenses and supports foster parents. “I find that foster parents who involve themselves in the foster parent community, through support groups, trainings, attending appreciation events and participating in online groups tend to feel better equipped to foster, in large part as they have built a community of support around them.”
LGBTQ Homes for LGBTQ Youth
When LGBTQ adults foster LGBTQ youth, relatable experiences make for a deeper connection.
“On a personal level, I have noticed that individuals who have lived through some type of personal struggle often are able to empathize more easily with both birth parents and the children,” Molina said. “These individuals often have lived experience on how to get through difficult times, which can be so helpful for the youth they are caring for. You don’t have to be a perfect person, or a perfect parent, to foster. What is needed is someone willing to hang in there with a youth, and work collaboratively with that youth’s team to best support the child.”
Panelists will include representatives from the Massachusetts Adoption Exchange (MARE), DCF (MA Dept. of Children and Families LGBTQ Liaisons) Mass. Commission on LGBTQ Youth, Foster parent of LGBTQ youth, adoptive parents of a transgender child and LGBTQ youth who are currently in the foster care system.
“I put this event together as a foster parent who is frustrated that LGBTQ youth in foster care often do not have the option of being fostered in a private home with a family but rather end up in youth shelters and group homes because of the lack of available foster parents willing to take LGBTQ teens,” Porter said.
This initiative is co-sponsored by MA Commission on LGBTQ Youth, Boston Pride, DCF, Kristen Porter Presents/Haus of Porter, MARE, Project Out, Mass. Transgender Political Coalition, and the Trans Club of New England.
To learn more about this event or sign up to attend, visit its Facebook Event Page. Caring for Our Own: LGBTQ Adults Supporting LGBTQ Foster Youth takes place on Aug. 6, 2019, at More Than Words located at 242 East Berkeley Street, Boston, Mass.
[This story was first published in the July 4, 2019 issue of The Rainbow Times].