Making the Case for Youth in Out-Of-Home Care

Last year, Lambda Legal client Catherine, a transgender young woman in the California foster care system, faced eviction from her group home because of her HIV status.

After Catherine learned of her diagnosis, she informed the group home staff. Administrators informed her they didn’t work with HIV positive youth and weren’t “medically equipped” to care for her, even though her treatment consisted of only one pill a day.

Even though administrators wanted her out, Catherine did not want to leave the group home as it would have forced her to leave an affirming school she loved and move to her fourth placement since entering foster care.

But 2015 brought good news for Catherine. Thanks to the advocacy of Lambda Legal’s Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project, Catherine was able to remain in her group home and graduate on time. While investigating her situation, we learned that the State of California allows group homes to refuse to accept placements of young people living with HIV. We are investigating this egregious policy and will work towards eliminating it in the coming year.

Lambda Legal’s Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project has had an extremely busy year advocating for LGBTQ youth, and youth living with HIV, in systems of care across the country. Catherine’s story is just one example. Here’s a brief recap of some of our other work.

In Minnesota we worked with Jackie, a young woman who was rejected by her mother when she came out as transgender. Child welfare authorities arranged for Jackie to live in a co-ed shelter, but shelter staff placed her on the boys’ side. Within hours of her placement, she was sexually assaulted by a male peer. Lambda Legal stepped in to advocate for Jackie, offering the shelter guidance about respecting and affirming her gender identity. The shelter agreed to move her to the girls’ unit, where she was safe and accepted. She has since returned home. Lambda Legal is working with the organization Children’s Rights to provide practical advice to professionals on how to affirm and support trans youth in out-of-home care that will feature guidance from trans youth themselves and help to prevent dangerous situations like Jackie’s first placement.

In a state in the South, we’ve been working with Jennifer, a transgender girl. Like Jackie, Jennifer was rejected by her family and placed in foster care. In one of her placements, her foster siblings attacked her so violently that they broke her jaw. When she defended herself, she was arrested and detained. Caseworkers refused to respect her gender identity, denied her feminine clothing, and pushed her into the juvenile justice system where she doesn’t belong. Unfortunately she has now been placed in a boys’ juvenile facility. We are working hard on getting Jennifer out of jail and into an affirming foster home.

Finally, in New York, Lambda Legal met Soul, a young man from Mali who had traveled to the United States to study after experiencing family rejection and discrimination from the community at home. Once in the U.S., Soul unequivocally came out as gay to his father, who promptly disowned him. With no degree, no money and no home to return to, Soul relied on the kindness of a childhood friend who lived in the Bronx. After a referral to us from the NYC LGBT Center, Lambda Legal helped Soul petition for his friend’s brother to be his legal guardian and apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. We hope that in 2016 Soul will obtain his permanent legal residence status. We are helping Soul achieve his goal to ensure that other undocumented LGBTQ youth receive the help they need by developing education and information about this underserved population.

As we look forward to 2016, the Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project will continue to advocate for LGBTQ youth in foster care, juvenile justice systems, and homeless systems of care. If you are a youth in care who has experienced discrimination based on your sexual orientation or gender identity, please contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk.

More resources for LGBTQ youth in care.

Please join Lambda Legal today and help us advocate for LGBTQ youth! Your membership gift will be matched dollar for dollar by the $1.25 million matching challenge from the estate of John Barham and Dick Auer.