Post submitted by Meredith S. Hicks, Planning and Policy Director at Lighthouse Youth Services in Cincinnati, OH.
For most, family means love, safety and acceptance. But not everyone is that fortunate. Youth who identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity (LGBTQ) often face abandonment and isolation. Identity-based family rejection is the leading cause of homelessness among LGBTQ youth. For youth left to endure the emotional scars of family rejection, the additional challenge of surviving in a shelter, on the streets or drifting from couch-to-couch can seem impossible.
Safe and Supported, a Cincinnati-based coalition of community leaders led by Lighthouse Youth Services, is working to improve the lives of LGBTQ youth looking for place to call home. The HRC Foundation’s All Children – All Families (ACAF) training is one of many strategies to prevent and end homelessness for LGBTQ youth.
ACAF is working with Lighthouse Youth Services to provide cultural competency training to more than 80 Lighthouse foster families and 50 Lighthouse therapists, social workers and staff. Participating in ACAF provides our agency with a comprehensive framework to establish policies and practices that welcome, support and affirm LGBT foster and adoptive parents and LGBTQ foster youth. Lighthouse is a leader in foster care and adoption in Cincinnati as well as a nationally recognized leader in youth homelessness prevention.
“The training reinforced Lighthouse’s belief that the client should always be part of the decision process when matching a young person to a family,” said Jami Clarke, Lighthouse Foster Care and Adoption Director. “Having foster families that are affirming of a youth’s identity better ensures that the match is successful and makes it more likely the young person has a permanent place to call home.”
Representatives from child welfare agencies also attended the two-day training session in November and were provided the opportunity to see what the ACAF training would look like for their agency.
The need in the community is apparent.
Approximately 1725 youth were homeless in Cincinnati at some point in 2013, according to the local Homelessness Management Information System. An estimated 15% of clients self-identify as LGBT at the Lighthouse Sheakley Center for Youth, an emergency shelter specifically for young adults ages 18 to 24 in the city. However, the actual number of homeless youth who identify as LGBT is most likely higher because some young people are reluctant to disclose the personal information or engage with services. About 1 in 3 Sheakley Center clients have a history of child welfare.
Lighthouse Youth Services will complete the ACAF process in January. Final completion of the program will better ensure that all youth will have a home that affirms their identity.