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The LGBTQ+ Experience in Foster Care

Young adults aging out of foster care face daunting challenges in their transition to adulthood. For the over 30% of youth in the system who identify as LGBTQ+, those challenges can be intensified. While LGBTQ+ youth enter the foster care system for many of the same reasons as non-LGBTQ+ youth, over a quarter are placed directly because of conflicts surrounding their sexual orientation and/or gender identity at home. Oftentimes, the cycle of abuse only continues once placed in care. 13% of LGBTQ+ youth report mistreatment during their time in foster care and typically experience almost twice the number of placement than their non-LGBTQ+ peers, mostly in congregate care (Human Rights Campaign 2015).

The culmination of these adverse experiences negatively affects the physical and mental health of LGBTQ+ foster youth. LGBTQ+ foster youth disproportionately suffer from depression, suicidal thoughts, PTSD, anxiety, obesity, and STIs. They are also more likely to participate in survival crimes, risky sexual behavior, and experience homelessness than their non-LGBTQ+ peers (Children and Youth Services Review 2020).  

For all youth, regardless of placement or sexual/gender identity, permanency, support, and resources are the key to a successful transition to adulthood. In order to achieve this, foster care needs to adapt to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ youth by providing comprehensive training to all foster parents, staff, and administrators who work with this population. Studies have shown that youth aging out of foster care with supportive networks have better outcomes in identity development and emotional well-being. Supportive networks that include sexual and gender minorities are especially crucial for LGBTQ+ young adults, who experience less stigma and discrimination-related stress when exposed to affirming relationships (Children and Youth Services Review 2020).

COMPASS Programs’ holistic approach to wellness for youth aging out of foster care includes affirming services, resources, and partnerships. While in the program, young adults have access to peer-led groups, life skills training that covers topics like self-esteem and identity, social events with peers, and a supportive staff to lean on. The COMPASS Point center is a safe space for all people, regardless of identity, and features two gender-neutral bathrooms with access to personal-health items like pads, tampons, and condoms available to all participants. The staff at COMPASS Programs regularly undergoes diversity training to keep up with best practices when interacting with the LGBTQ+ community and ensuring their needs are met. COMPASS also works with community partners, like Planned Parenthood, the San Gabriel Valley LGBTQ Center, local college groups, and mental health services to provide extra support to young adults during and after their time at COMPASS.

Beyond the physical and emotional needs of participants, COMPASS fosters an educational environment by providing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Event each month focused on different cultures and identities. This month in honor of Pride, participants were supplied with two TED Talk videos dispelling myths about the LGBTQ+ community and the ties between the Gay Rights Movement and the Civil Rights Movement with a survey to reflect on what they learned and what Pride means to them.

To learn more about COMPASS Programs and our wonderful community partners, register for the Intellectual Wellness Resource Fair on Tuesday, June 15th from 1-2pm here

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