LGBT youth in the foster system face even more challenges than their straight counterparts, from discrimination to mental health issues and more. Despite this, successful and nurturing adoptions of queer youth are not just possible – they’re very common!
If you plan to foster or adopt an LGBTQ youth, this guide can help make the process easier for you and your child. In it, you’ll learn about the adoption process and how to make it as seamless as possible for all parties.
What Are The Current Problems For LGBTQ+ Foster Children?
Like any other youth, many LGBTQ+ children experience foster care placement for the same reasons:
- The incarceration of a parent
- Inability of the birth family to care for the child due to illness or lack of finances
- Drug or alcohol use within the family
- Rejection due to a birth or resource family’s spiritual and religious beliefs
However, compared to their heterosexual counterparts, queer youth are more likely to experience abuse within the foster care and juvenile justice systems. Some may even have gone through to conversion therapy at times, a practice that the Human Rights Campaign Foundation is trying to abolish.
In its current state, the child welfare system is often detrimental to LGBTQ+ youth. Many LGBTQ+ children in the foster care system experience harassment and discrimination, often resulting in them turning to criminal activity or self-harm to cope. Not only does this make it more challenging for LGBTQ+ youth to get adopted, but it can also be challenging for foster parents to navigate.
Despite efforts by more progressive child welfare agencies, many LGBTQ+ foster children also tend to become homeless or face sexual exploitation. The good news is, there are many opportunities for foster and permanent families to recognize, intervene, support, empower, and encourage LGBTQ+ children to develop nurturing relationships after adoption.
Things To Consider Before Adopting An LGBTQ+ Youth
If you and your partner want to become the adoptive parents of an LGBTQ+ youth, here are a few things you should consider before undergoing the process.
Know Your LGBTQ+ Adoption Laws
No two states have the same adoption laws – where you live can make it easier or more challenging to adopt an LGBTQ+ youth. In addition, adopting through child welfare agencies can be even more difficult if you and your partner are also part of the LGBT community. Fortunately, Florida adoption laws for LGBTQ+ couples are extremely lenient, given that permanent families can provide for their future adoptive children.
Decide Between A Public & Private Agency
Permanent families have two options when adopting LGBTQ+ children:
- Public child welfare agencies: These government entities provide low or no-cost adoption arrangements and short-term financial support for families, which can be ideal for lower-income homes. However, the adoption process can be lengthy.
- Private agencies: Licensed and regulated as non-profits, private agencies are more likely to employ staff with LGBTQ+ sensitivity training, which can make the process more seamless for both parties. However, some private agencies have strict requirements for potential parents.
Consider Special Needs
When adopting LGBT homeless youth, you must have their best interests in mind. Many LGBTQ+ children have emotional and mental challenges, along with trauma that may require special care. Fortunately, many child welfare professionals place a child according to their specific needs.
If you’re adopting an LGBTQ+ youth with special needs, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you open to adopting LGBTQ+ children with siblings? Are those children also struggling with their gender identity?
- Are you prepared to handle a child with a high need for attention?
- Are you LGBT parents looking to adopt?
- Will you, in the future, be able to fund LGBTQ+ kids who want to undergo transformative surgery?
Find Support Wherever You Can
Adopting young people with gender identity issues is challenging enough on its own. Without a supportive extended family, navigating your relationship with an older youth can be double the work. If you don’t have the support of your extended family, make sure to seek resources elsewhere, such as in schools or community groups.
Tips For Foster Families & Adoptive Parents Caring For LGBT Children
If you’ve been chosen to be the permanent parents of an LGBTQ+ youth, congratulations! But the work doesn’t end there. Part of being a successful and loving family is always to be open to change and progress. Dealing with LGBTQ+ children who have been in and out of home care is not easy, but these tips can help smooth the process.
The best way to understand what an extremely vulnerable LGBTQ+ youth goes through is to educate yourself. Aside from personal research, adoptive and foster families can expand their knowledge on LGBTQ+ issues by being active in gay-straight school alliances, staying in contact with teachers, and consulting online resources.
Adoptive families can also learn more about how to support LGBTQ+ children and youth through these recommended resources:
- Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG): America’s largest family and ally organization, PFLAG provides scholarship programs and educates parents on present legislative issues.
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention for Youth: Many LGBTQ+ youth experience more negative health outcomes than their heterosexual peers. Through the CDC, adoptive parents can encourage children to become more actively involved in their health.
- Family Acceptance Project: Through this project, lifetime families can learn more about the physical and mental health risks of being an LGBTQ+ youth in the 21st century.
- The Trevor Project: Straight or gay parents can consult this crisis intervention group to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning children who are at risk of suicide.
Learn To Signpost
While loving families tend to want to be as enthusiastic as possible with LGBTQ+ children from foster care homes, this can be overwhelming for kids and other youth who have not experienced affection before. For children who are still coming to terms with their sexual orientation or have experienced previous trauma, grand gestures can be overwhelming.
Instead, affirming lifetime families can take smaller steps and more subtle gestures, such as learning a child’s pronouns or providing them with LGBT-friendly literature. These minute gestures reassure LGBT kids terrified of opening up that they are safe to do so.
Address Common Misconceptions
Forming permanent, loving families means providing a space for LGBTQ+ youth where they feel safe. On top of learning their pronouns and how they identify, you’ll also want to debunk some common misconceptions. After all, sharing misinformation is extremely harmful to LGBTQ+ youth and resource families.
Some persisting myths include:
- Being LGBTQ+ is just a phase: Nowadays, many LGBTQ+ youths realize their gender identities as young as 10 years old…or even earlier, in some cases. Acknowledging that they can decide their sexual identities – no matter their age – can be extremely empowering for LGBTQ+ kids.
- You cannot be a good Christian if you are part of an LGBTQ+ advocacy: Contrary to popular belief, many religious groups are more than welcoming of LGBTQ+ youth in foster care as well as LGBT parents.
- LGBTQ+ children are more likely to experience behavioral issues: While it is true that LGBT single adults tend to experience more psychological issues than most, this is primarily due to discrimination and social stigma. To help your child navigate hostile circumstances, ensure that they have access to mental health services like therapy.
Set At-Home Protocols
Enforcing protocols can help make your home a safe space, especially if you already have other children.
For example, always make it clear that your family won’t tolerate slurs and insensitive jokes. You can even put up hate-free zone posters and other decor supporting the LGBTQ+ community, such as the rainbow flag or transgender flag. Also, let your adoptive children know that they can express themselves how they want to, whether through accessories, clothing, jewelry, and hairstyles.
If you are fostering multiple youths at once, make it a point to arrange monthly or bimonthly roundtables about how your family can best support them. Let them know that you are open to discussing any of their concerns.
The Bottom Line
As it goes, the best way to thoughtfully transition a queer youth out of foster care and into a loving home is to get to know their perspective. Adopting a queer child is completely different from adopting any other, so you’ll want to do your research, equip yourself with the proper resources, and develop a robust support system.
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Also, while we do our best to highlight LGBTQ-friendly destinations and businesses, info provided is based solely on personal experience and recommendations by community partners. We hope that nobody experiences discrimination or homophobia while visiting Florida, but we make no guarantees. Please inform us if you experience discrimination or homophobia while visiting any destination so we can make updates to our recommendations.