LGBTQ Children in Foster Care

From UBC Wiki
Percentage of All Foster Children in Congregate Care by State, as of September 30, 2013

There are various reasons a child can end up in the foster care system. Many are attributed to incompetent parents from abuse or neglect of the child.

Over the last decade, there has been a large push towards the inclusion and acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals. However, within society, there are still negative stigmas and attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community. Based on negative outlooks, the LGBTQ+ youth in foster care face discrimination and hardships different from other foster care youth. This trauma induced by the foster care system on LGBTQ+ youth has current and long-lasting negative impacts to their lives.

Until recently, there was limited to no data on the sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression (SOGIE). Even though there is an over representation of LGBTQ+ youth in foster care, they are still often over looked in the system because of the lack of information and data collected and research gathered.

Currently, there are many initiatives in place to prevent and limit the discrimination on LGBTQ+ youth in the foster care system. These initiatives are focused on an increase in education for social welfare workers and foster parents of LGBTQ+ children.


Research studies have shown that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender queer/questioning and other (LGBTQ+) youth is over-represented in the foster care system. Over-representation means that there are disproportionately larger percentages of LGBTQ+ youth placed in foster care compared to the general youth population[1]. According to a study conducted by the Williams Institute in Los Angeles, California, there is approximately 19.1% of youth in LA foster care that identify as LGBTQ+[2] in comparison to the estimate of 3.4% - 7.75% of youth in the U.S.[3][4]

The study also showed that “there are between 1.5 to 2 times as many LGBTQ youth living in foster care as LGBTQ youth estimated to be living outside of foster care”[2]

Even in the United States, some individuals still hold a negative stigma towards the LGBTQ community. When coming out and informing their family/guardians of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression (SOGIE)[1], the reactions they face can vary greatly. "LGBTQ youth are kicked out of their homes or run away from their homes at rates significantly higher than straight youth"[1] Some scholars and researchers suggest that this over-representation in the LGBTQ youth in foster care is based on the high rejection rate of revealing their SOGIE.


When it comes to discrimination within the foster care system, it is not always solely reliant on an individual’s SOGIE. Race, culture, sex and gender interact and have an impact on the treatment the individual received within the foster care system. For example, the majority of the youth that identify as LGBTQ+ in foster care are individuals of color.  This means that it is likely that they get discriminated based on their race as well as their SOGIE.

Victimization and Abuse

Many children in foster care are wary and do not feel safe of disclosing their SOGIE based on the fact that they may be less likely to be placed in a family, or their foster parents and/or social workers may treat them differently.

According to the 2014 Williams Institute study in LA, “12% of foster youth ages 17-21years had been kicked out of their house or run away due to their identified or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity”[2]

Based on their circumstances, when LGBTQ youth are placed in foster care, they are more likely to face abuse by social workers, foster parents, and their peers[5]. In addition to the existing circumstances, those who identify as LGBTQ+ face additional trauma. This trauma is rooted from rejection, discrimination or harassment from their surroundings. Although the foster care system and social work professionals attempt to create a safe and welcoming environment, there is a vast difference with maltreatment and abuse of LGBTQ+ youth in the system.

“A Williams Institute study found that youth identifying as LGBTQ+ were twice as likely to report poor treatment by the foster care system”[6][2]

There are difficulties and problems that LGBTQ+ youth may face that non-LGBTQ+ youth are not presented with. These difficulties and traumas that they face can have detrimental effects.

Impacts of LGBTQ+ in Foster Care

Based on the experiences that the LGBTQ+ youth in the foster care system have, there are many impacts that may arise.

A study conducted by Baams, Wilson, and Russell report to the impact that an unstable house from foster care can have on LGBTQ+ youth. “LGBTQ youth in unstable housing reported poorer school functioning (Bs = 20.10 to 0.40), higher substance use (Bs = 0.26–0.28), and poorer mental health (odds ratios = 0.73–0.80) … more fights in school (B = 0.16), victimization (B = 0.10), and mental health problems (odds ratios = 0.82–0.73) …”[7]

The impacts from the trauma of foster care can occur while in foster care, or in adulthood. Although some of these factors can have an immediate effect, they can also take place later in life. This shows that the maltreatment the LGBTQ+ youth face in foster care not only effects their childhood but can also have a lasting impact on their adult life.

Educating Potential Foster Parents and Social Workers

ProtectTransKids Protest

When preparing for a foster child that identifies as LGBTQ+, there are specific challenges that they may encounter. When in training to become a foster parent, there are very few programs that present cases with LGBTQ+ youth.[5] In order to prevent the differences in the ways that social workers and future foster parents treat LGBTQ+ youth, there is a call to increase the amount of education required. “Crucial to reunification attempts, practitioners need to be able to provide education, support, and guidance to families of youth who identify as LGBTQ+”[6] LGBTQ+ youth require different needs. With an increase in education, it can teach legal guardians and social workers how to meet these need in hopes to decrease the discrimination and maltreatment of LGBTQ+ youth in foster care.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 McCormick, Adam (2018). LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care. New York: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781315717159. ISBN 9781315717159.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Wilson, Bianca; Cooper, Khush; Kastanis, Angeliki; Nezhad, Sheila (2014). "Sexual and Gender Minority Youth in Foster care: Assessing Disproportionality and Disparities in Los Angeles" (PDF). The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law. Los Angeles.
  3. Russell, S.T.; Seif, H; Truong, N.L. (2001). "School outcomes of sexual minority youth in the United States: Evidence from a national study". Journal of adolescence. 24(1): 111–127.
  4. Gates, G.J.; Newport, Frank (2012). "Special Report: 3.4% of U.S. Adults Identify as LGBT". Gallup.
  5. Craig-Oldsen, Heather; Craig, J Ann; Morton, Thomas (2006). "Issues of Shared Parenting of LGBTQ Children and Youth in Foster Care: Preparing Foster Parents for New Roles". Child Welfare. 85(2): 267–280.
  6. Ryan, C; Russell, S.T.; Huebner, D.M.; Diaz, R; Sanchez, J (2010). "Family acceptance in adolescence and the health of LGBT young adults". Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing. 23(4): 205–213.



Ashley Tanaka