A new Trump administration rule could hurt LGBTQ youth in foster care
November 5, 2019 1:03 PM Subscribe
Foster care agencies could soon turn away prospective foster parents because they are gay or trans, thanks to a rule proposed by the Trump administration on Friday. The rule would remove language protecting LGBTQ people and others from discrimination in programs funded by grants from the Department of Health and Human Services, according to the Washington Post. The change would apply to a wide range of programs, including those aimed at HIV prevention and treatment for opioid addiction and other substance abuse. But advocates say it appears targeted at the child welfare system, where it could have devastating effects, including keeping children from finding homes and even funneling them into the prison system. “If you turn away a qualified, loving family that wants to open their home to a child, then you’re not placing a child,” Denise Brogan-Kator, chief policy officer of Family Equality, a group that advocates for the rights of LGBTQ families, told Vox. Because the change is broad, it would also allow programs to discriminate on the basis of religion — for example, by refusing to allow non-Christian couples to adopt or foster children. It could also allow foster care agencies to refuse to take in gay or trans youth.
The move could greatly affect LGBTQ parents and prospective parents, who are disproportionately likely to adopt or foster children. While 3 percent of different-sex parents have an adopted child, 21.4 percent of same-sex parents have adopted, according to a 2018 report.
It would also affect children, who could miss out on possible placements if agencies turn away LGBTQ families. There are more than 400,000 children in the US foster care system, including 114,000 who can’t be returned to their families and need to be adopted, the New York Times reports.
If there are fewer potential foster homes for children, more kids will live in institutional settings like shelters or residential treatment facilities, Kayee said. She spent time in both after being removed from the home she shared with her stepfather in Minnesota, where they had come as political refugees from Liberia.
At the facilities where she lived, staff used solitary confinement to punish kids, she told Vox. She was first placed in solitary at the age of eight, after refusing to let a white staff member touch her hair. The room was “freezing cold,” and she could hear mice in the walls, she said.
Kayee knew she was queer by the time she was 10 or 11, but she hid both her sexuality and her religion — she has both Muslim and Christian family members — in the facility where she lived then. She’d seen how a boy was treated when he came out: The staff “went from treating him like this angel to this infected being,” she said.
“I’d rather have them hate me because of my dark skin, than hate me because of my dark skin, plus my religion, plus my sexuality,” Kayee said she told herself at the time.
The rule change could mean LGBTQ youth like Kayee are less likely to find LGBTQ-affirming homes, which can mean the difference between being treated like a burden and being celebrated for who they are. When “you don’t see anyone that looks like you,” Kayee said, “you start to think you’re the problem.” But “being in a placement where someone not only affirms you but continues to uplift your identity, you know that, I was meant to be here.”
The rule could even allow foster care or adoption agencies to simply refuse to care for LGBTQ youth, Brogan-Kator said. Currently, when government officials remove a child from a home environment or otherwise decide that child needs foster care, they will call foster care agencies to ask if they can take the child, according to Brogan-Kator. Under the proposed rule, if the child is LGBTQ, an agency could simply say no.