DCF’s reinstated guidelines offer protections needed for LGBT foster youth

By : Anna M. Johnson
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After two months of fighting over the Department of Children and Families’ retracting of an amendment created to protect LGBTQ youth in group homes, the amendment was reinstated on July 5.

Robert Latham, LGBT Child Welfare Work Group chair and supervising attorney for the Children & Youth Law Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law, has been fighting for the protections since DCF backtracked on the rules in April.

“This is wonderful. This is definitely an important step forward,” Latham says.

The protections detail specifically how to place transgender youth while preventing harassment, discrimination and conversion therapy, and training requirements for staff and other youth with the goal of making group homes safer for LGBT children.

“We are being very cautious, though – it is just a step forward,” Latham says.

Next comes a public comment period. When the rules were initially announced in April, two religious groups protested their implementation, which appears to have led to the initial retraction. If no complaints are received in 21 days, the updates will become final.

Since April, many more community members spoke in favor of the LGBT youth protections than those opposed to them. Latham credits the reestablishment to these outspoken supporters.

“A lot of well-meaning people still have questions,” he says. “A lot of education and conversations have happened over the past month. I think that good people spoke to each other and realized that this is the right thing to do.”

Specific issues that the new ruling seeks to fix include not only discrimination, harassment and mistreatment, but also what Latham calls “disparate treatment.”

Foster children who raised complaints would often hear from officials that there was no rule preventing them from being treated differently, Latham says.

“Before, treating these kids differently because of their sexual orientations and gender identities and wasn’t against any set rules,” he says.

These new rules create what Latham calls “a completely different landscape.”

LGBTQ youth in group homes can now not only expect caretakers to treat them appropriately; they can demand it. The rules establish guidelines in the job descriptions of group home employees that specifically address how to be inclusive of and equitable to LGBTQ youth.

“They really allow the youth’s voice to have power behind it and for people to respect their safety and their dignity. It’s a game changer,” Latham says.

If those counseling youth have already been abiding by what the DCF has now made official, stricter regulations on specific agencies may not be necessary.

“There’s a third piece to all of this, which is foster parents,” Latham says. “Foster parents are volunteers that come in out of the goodness of their hearts, and they’re also licensed. There are a lot of rules about what it means to be a foster parent, and we need to have a conversation about the expectations for them.”

Licensed foster parents have legally committed to working with all types of children, and Latham says that group homes often see a disparity in who foster parents are willing to adopt.

According to a press release on July 5, DCF also intends to “develop long-term training for care providers and other professionals in the system to implement nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ youth, as well as hiring an ombudsman to specifically address discrimination in the child welfare system.”

Latham describes the additional measures as “completing the picture, and working toward keeping families together, which is DCF’s ultimate goal.”

The new rules only apply to group homes, which Latham calls “a great beginning, because [the rules] are tackling what these kids have reported to us as being the biggest problem.”

It is only a beginning, however. There are other areas of the child welfare system that still have no guidelines specific to LGBTQ youth, or other children who belong to minority groups.

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