Other Voices

Gay and lesbian parents can help Texas foster youth awaiting families

State Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, center, speaks about improving the Department of Family and Protective Services and the foster care system at a Jan. 30 news conference at the Capitol in Austin.
State Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, center, speaks about improving the Department of Family and Protective Services and the foster care system at a Jan. 30 news conference at the Capitol in Austin. AP

The backlog of children in the Texas foster care system awaiting placement with a foster family has been a key part of the debate about how to reform the state’s child welfare system.

Reports of children sleeping in CPS offices has led many to question why there is such a critical shortage of foster families across the state.

Despite this shortage, many agencies that recruit and license foster parents have little desire to work with gays and lesbians interested in becoming foster parents.

Gay and lesbian foster and adoptive parents make exceptional parents, and research overwhelmingly suggests that children raised by gays and lesbians are just as healthy, happy and successful as children raised by straight parents.

In many cases, potential gay and lesbian foster parents have dealt with stigma and discrimination related to their own identity that is very similar to the stigma and discrimination that comes with being a foster youth.

These mutual experiences can create a home environment that is affirming, sensitive and empathic.

In addition, gay and lesbian foster parents are much more likely to take youth into their homes who have historically been more difficult to find stable placements for, including teens of color, LGBTQ youth and large sibling groups.

Over half of children who are adopted by gays and lesbians have special needs, and nearly 60 percent of gays and lesbians adopt or foster across race.

Perhaps there is no group of youth in the state’s foster care system more adversely impacted by the shortage of gay and lesbian foster parents than LGBTQ youth.

LGBTQ youth are disproportionately overrepresented in foster care.

We don’t know exactly how many teens in the state’s foster care system identify as LGBTQ, but it is estimated that LGBTQ youth make up between 18-20 percent of teens in foster care nationally.

The over-representation of LGBTQ youth is largely attributed to the rejection, abuse and hostility they experience from their families of origin.

Many are subject to further maltreatment and instability once placed in foster care.

An LGBTQ youth in foster care is nearly three times as likely as a straight youth to see that placement end in disruption.

Many of the obstacles that LGBTQ youth in the foster care system encounter can be attributed to the rejection that they experience from foster parents whose religious and ideological convictions are at odds with providing accepting and affirming care.

This is especially troubling given recent research that suggests LGBTQ youth with rejecting families or foster families are nearly eight times more likely to be suicidal, six times more likely to be depressed, and 3  1/2 times more likely to engage in risky sex associated with HIV infection.

In many cases, gay and lesbian families are especially equipped to provide the affirming and competent care that LGBTQ youth need to feel safe, accepted and stable in their placements.

It is estimated that nearly half of all gay and lesbian adults desire to be parents at some point.

State officials and child welfare organizations should consider looking at gay and lesbian families as an untapped resource in meeting the crucial needs of our state’s most vulnerable youth.

Adam McCormick is assistant professor of social work at St. Edward’s University in Austin.

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