Observing National Foster Care Month By Celebrating New Strides

by HRC Staff

This piece was written jointly by Jose Soto (he/him), HRC's digital content specialist, and Phii Regis (they/them), HRC's All Children- All Families program director, with additional information provided by Kendall Kalustyan, HRC's government affairs policy coordinator.

The fight for full LGBTQ+ equality, one without exception, must encompass each and every space and sector where LGBTQ+ people exist–including LGBTQ+ youth in the U.S. foster care system, where 30% of the over 391,000 youth identify as LGBTQ+. With National Foster Care Month being observed annually in May, it is an opportune time to celebrate the recent strides that have helped to protect some of the most vulnerable members of our community, improving the safety and well-being of LGBTQ+ youth in the child welfare system.

This year’s National Foster Care Month coincides with the recent finalization of a federal rule issued by the Biden-Harris administration, the most pro-equality administration in our nation’s history, and it helps to combat some of the challenges LGBTQ+ youth face while in foster care systems.

On April 29, 2024, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services finalized a federal rule instructing state and tribal agencies across the country that receive federal funds to fully implement existing protections for LGBTQ+ youth in foster care systems. The Children’s Bureau of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a division of HHS, that regulates child welfare programs run by state and tribal federally-funded agencies, proposed the rule in draft form in September of 2023.

Through the administration’s new rule, ACF made it clear that all children in the child welfare system, including LGBTQ+ youth, must be placed in safe and appropriate home settings. The rule specifically requires that child welfare agencies must ensure that family placements are free from harassment, mistreatment, and abuse, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, it builds out a mechanism for prospective foster care parents to receive specific training and provisions of appropriate resources that help support the well-being and health of young LGBTQ+ people. The Human Rights Campaign hailed the ruling upon release, noting that ‘no child should worry that if they share their sexual orientation or gender identity that they’ll lose their ability to have a safe home or be subjected to discrimination or harassment.

HRC Foundation’s All Children-All Families program, the only national program dedicated to LGBTQ+ inclusion in child welfare that provides resource development, technical assistance and training, noted that the timely ruling not only addressed the current political and social climate that directly impacts LGBTQ+ youth in these systems, it also aligned with the staff training, and the policy and practice work that the program has conducted for nearly 18 years.

Through the leadership of our ACAF program, a record-breaking 172 child welfare agencies and over 30,500 professionals have transformed services for more than 1.4 million children, youth, and families annually in 43 states by implementing LGBTQ+ inclusive policies and affirming practices.

Still, LGBTQ+ youth in foster care and the professionals who aim to better serve them continue to face stark challenges. With 1 in every 3 children in foster care identifying as LGBTQ+, and as LGBTQ+ identities continue to grow within younger populations, the work of our ACAF program and that of participating agencies has never been more crucial.

The new administration’s rule aligns directly with the program’s current focus, helping participating and interested foster care agencies improve their inclusive policies and practices designed to better serve LGBTQ+ youth in foster care systems and prospective parents or guardians. Through the program’s training and curriculum, and with the substantiated support from the measures outlined in the rule, agencies can create a stronger foundation for LGBTQ+ inclusion. Within the past months, the ACAF program has seen an uptick in agencies requesting training, and seeking ACAF’s organizational framework and technical assistance.

Recently, our ACAF team presented to the leaders of foster care and short-term residential treatment programs in Los Angeles County, the largest foster care system in the US. All leaders were advised on how they could begin to participate in ACAF’s upcoming survey cycle. The ACAF team also led a 6-hour “Setting the Foundation for Inclusion” training delivered to Prevention Links, Inc., a non-profit organization in New Jersey with a service delivery reach of 12,000+ community members. 22 staff members attended the training, and a significant component of the curriculum focused on transforming service delivery to transgender and gender-expansive youth.

On April 16th, our ACAF team presented LGBTQ+ inclusive policy strategies to senior leaders from over 20 new child welfare agencies joining the program’s 2024 survey cycle. There were three leaders in attendance from Tennessee and Texas; frontline states where anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has had a detrimental impact on the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ youth, including those in the child welfare system.

When the final rule goes into full effect on July 1, 2024, protections for LGBTQ+ youth in foster care will be strengthened. Still, this moment of celebration and monumental progress comes at a time when the LGBTQ+ community at large continues to face legislative attacks and violence stocked by hateful rhetoric and MAGA extremism. HRC remains adamantly committed to fighting for the rights and protections of every single one of our LGBTQ+ family and will continue to fight until we are all liberated and free from discrimination and hate in whichever form it presents itself.