Queer Youth and the Child Welfare System
Research shows that queer youth are overrepresented and underserved in the child welfare system. In fact, queer youth have been shown to represent almost two times the population compared to their peers (Wilson et al., 2014). This means that despite the high prevalence of LGBTQIA+ youth and children in the child welfare system, their unique experiences, needs, and perspectives are often overlooked or undervalued. A recent study by Kaasbøll, J., Pedersen, S. A., & Paulsen, V. (2022) "[reveals] a gap in the current knowledge about social workers' attitudes, knowledge and experiences regarding working with LGBTQ individuals.”
The same study also found that queer foster parents face similar discrimination in the child welfare system. Despite the increasing amount of queer individuals and families who enter the system in attempts to foster or mentor youth, queer adults often face discrimination and prejudice from service providers. Queer foster parents face increased scrutiny and pressure to hide their queer identity, and are often considered considered “second best” to heterosexual or cisgender foster parents.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, trans foster parents were often more open and accepting of queer youth, BIPOC youth, youth with documented mental or behavioral issues. Studies show that queer and trans foster parents "were more open to children that were over the age of 12, of colour, LGBQ and children and youth having behaviour or mental health problems— compared with cisgender sexual minorities men and women" (Kaasbøll et al., 2022). These findings suggest that queer foster parents may be able to offer a safer, more accepting space for youth, regardless of their identities.
This research suggests that child welfare social workers and service providers should undergo explicit training on how to serve LGBTQIA+ youth. Oftentimes, "child welfare employees ‘do not know’ how they feel about the LGBTQ population" (Kaasbøll et al., 2022) which can directly result in negative experiences on behalf of. the population they serve. Child welfare social workers should be well-versed and trained on queer-specific identities, issues, and youth development in order to better serve this over-represented yet underserved community.
Kaasbøll, J., Pedersen, S. A., & Paulsen, V. (2022). What is known about the LGBTQ perspective in child welfare services: A scoping review. Child & Family Social Work, 27(2), 358-369.