Life in foster care can result in immense trauma. LGBTQ+ youth in foster care can experience that trauma and more.
According to Truecolorsfund.org, it is estimated that seven percent of youth in the United States identify as LGBTQ+. That number is higher, 19 percent, for youth cared for by the state in foster care. Those youth usually face more adverse circumstances in foster care. They are met with bias and prejudices that can lead to mistreatment. LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk of familial rejection and bullying which can lead to homelessness, especially when in foster care.
Childrensrights.org stated, “On any given day, there are nearly 438,000 children in foster care in the United States.” As of 2016, there were 479 children in foster care in Prince George’s County. Although the Department of Social Services (DSS) does not have an amount of how many of those children identify as LGBTQ+, the adverse effects are still apparent. No federal mandate tracks the number of LGBTQ+ identifying youth in the foster care system.
Courtney La Prince entered the foster care system with her sister at the age of ten. They were first placed with their grandmother, but the move was unsuccessful, and they were placed in foster care and separated. La Prince says she bounced from seven or eight foster homes before she aged out of the system. La Prince says many homes were in it just for the money.
Some of the harm done to LGBTQ+ youth while in foster care isn’t always violent. Critics of the system say some foster parents show indifference to LGBTQ+ youth and do not understand the importance of disclosing or acknowledging a child’s preference. Many foster placements also have subconscious biases that when met with a wrong perception of a child can lead to a harmful situation.
La Prince described a time — just before aging out of the system — when she was ridiculed unnecessarily. Her foster sister, who was ten at the time, claimed to have seen La Prince with a friend in her room with her shirt up. La Prince says none of that was true and she was “persecuted and ostracized for something I did not do.”
At the time, La Prince was questioning her sexuality and said it was why she was secretive about her sexuality. She also described meeting more LGBTQ+ youth when she entered independent living. Many, she said, had been verbally and physically abused for their sexuality by foster parents.
Studies have shown that non-affirming placements largely affect a child’s mental health, which plays a role in how they fare when they age out of the system.
“All children in foster care have a very difficult experience to overcome. And so that trauma in itself is enough,” says Anne Marie Binsner, the executive director of the Prince George’s County branch of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), a non-profit organization that trains volunteers to become special advocates for a child in foster care.
“When you add to that uncertainty about their sexual orientation… as they are kind of recognizing their otherness… it makes it much more difficult.”
La Prince and her sister were placed into foster care in Prince George’s County and became the first children appointed CASAs. La Prince has become a successful graphic designer with her own business and credited CASA and Binsner for that success.
She is one of the lucky ones. National data proves that life after foster care is not always very promising. More than half of youth in foster care do not graduate high school, according to National Foster Youth Institute and some end up homeless or in jail when they do finally age out. LGBTQ+ youth are even more likely to end up with these fates. “30 to 40 percent of [LGBTQ+ youth] ended up being homeless,” stated Binsner.
With the right support, a foster child can be successful after aging out. La Prince suggests having more resources for LGBTQ+ youth in care. She suggests offering therapy for questioning or identifying youth, or forming communities with other identifying or questioning youth in the system.
“If you can not have your foster parent to relate to, you should at least have somebody else, perhaps your age, to talk to.”