A new report, the first of its kind locally, on the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth in the Cuyahoga County foster care system shows what has been anecdotally known for years: they are overrepresented in the system and face disparate experiences.
Conducted jointly by the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services and the University of Maryland School of Social Work, "The Cuyahoga Youth Count: A Report on LGBTQ+ Youth's Experience in Foster Care" brings hard data to the discussion of ongoing problems. Among them: youth who experience discrimination, increased mental health and substance abuse issues, and inconsistent housing situations.
“We have known for decades that LGBTQ+ youth are invisible because systems don’t ask questions about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,” Marlene Matarese, deputy director and principal investigator for the National Quality Improvement Center on Tailored Services, Placement Stability, and Permanency for LGBTQ2S Children and Youth in Foster Care (QIC- LGBTQ2S), told the Buckeye Flame, which first reported on the study. “We need research like this because data uncovers what is invisible, and once it is visible, it can’t be ignored.”
LGBTQ+ youth make up some 32% of Cuyahoga County's foster system, whereas the national rate is 9%. Additionally, and more worrisome, those LGBTQ+ youth are targeted for discrimination and 42.3% of them told researchers they didn't feel like they could be themselves in their current living situation.
While officials and staff had some idea of the landscape, it didn't turn out to be an accurate one.
“When we were asking staff about the LGBTQ+ youth they were working with, we were getting estimates back of 2-3%,” Karen Anderson, special projects coordinator at CCDCFS, told the Buckeye Flame. “Over 30% is far beyond where we were operating.”
As Scene reported in 2018:
Children and youth with diverse SOGIE are at a greater risk for physical and emotional abuse, drug use, suicide attempts, mental health concerns, homelessness, interpersonal and/or community violence, bullying, harassment, academic challenges, increased school sanctions and various other forms of discrimination and hardship as compared to their heterosexual peers.CCDFS says it will use the findings to institute a range of plans to address the issues found, including training for foster families and staff.
Those problems are accentuated for kids in the foster care system, who also face a wide range of additional negative outcomes: They are far less likely to reunify with their biological families once put into the system, have a higher probability of winding up in group homes, and are more likely to age out of the foster care environment without any support system awaiting them on the other side.