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Last week, after announcing the reversal of a three year old Justice Department policy that protected transgender employees from workplace discrimination, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued two memos addressing the federal interpretation of religious liberty. The memos broadly interpret religious liberty to allow businesses covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including federal service providers, to refuse to serve people on the basis of the employer’s religious beliefs. This decision follows the trend initially set by the Trump Administration through a leaked draft of an executive order on religious liberty and picked up by several states across the country that have passed religious refusal legislation that allow publicly-funded child welfare agencies to refuse to serve individuals based on their deeply-held religious belief. While religious refusal laws may be intended to provide religious child placing agencies protection from adverse action for discriminating against prospective foster and adoptive parents who are LGBTQ or gender expansive, they will have numerous, far-reaching and harmful consequences for all young people involved in child welfare.

This week, CSSP released a new brief, “Religious Refusal Laws in Child Welfare—Harming Children and Stunting Progress”, examining the impact of religious refusal legislation on children and families who are involved in child welfare. As we discuss in the brief, religious refusal laws will have tremendous negative consequences for all children and families involved in child welfare that directly contradict not only the basic principles of child welfare but also the significant gains made by child welfare systems across the country to recruit and retain quality foster and adoptive homes. These consequences include:

  • A reduction in the number of available homes for children and increased time in foster care. Agencies could reject otherwise qualified unmarried couples, individuals who are single or divorced, people of a different faith than the agency, interfaith couples, families and individuals who do not belong to a religious practice or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LBGTQ) or gender expansive individuals or couples because they do not adhere to an agency or individual worker’s beliefs. This would result in children remaining in foster care rather than being placed in a loving, capable and qualified adoptive home. It could also increase referrals to group and congregate care facilities due to lack of available foster homes.
  • Educational disruption. Religious refusal laws increase the likelihood that children entering foster care will have to move further away from their home school for their placement and experience education disruption. Research shows that educational disruption has a number of long-lasting, detrimental effects on students’ academic achievement, brain growth, mental development, psychological adjustment and likelihood of high school completion.
  • Disconnection from family and other supportive social networks. Religious refusal legislation would allow an agency to refuse to place a child with an otherwise qualified relative or family friend for multiple reasons related to the agency or individual worker’s religious beliefs and instead place the child in non-relative foster care or in a group or congregate care facility.
  • Lack of access to appropriate medical and behavioral health care. Limiting potential foster and adoptive placements increases the likelihood that children in foster care will experience disruptions in their medical or behavioral health care. Moreover, an agency could deny children and young people necessary medical care, such as vaccinations, reproductive care or access to contraception, which runs counter to the work of jurisdictions throughout the country to ensure that all children in foster care are vaccinated, receive regular medical and dental care and are screened and receive access to any identified mental health care.
  • Additional harm for lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender and gender expansive young people in foster care. By allowing agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ or gender expansive foster or adoptive parents, religious refusal laws send a clear and powerful message that the public agencies charged with protecting youth who have been rejected by their families will further repeat that trauma and validate such rejection by not supporting or affirming their identities. In addition, placement of young children in non-affirming homes can result in abuse and failed adoptions later when a child comes out in that home.

These outcomes are far from inevitable. We call upon policymakers and advocates to join the many states and communities who are rejecting religious refusal laws that provide publicly-funded agencies with a license to discriminate and are instead working to ensure that child serving agencies focus on promoting the best interests of all children in their care through inclusive nondiscrimination laws and providing them with capable, loving and stable homes.

For more information on the harmful consequences of religious refusal laws in child welfare, read our brief available here.

For more information on strategies for child welfare systems to better support healthy sexual and identity development for all children and youth in the child welfare system, see resources from CSSP’s getREAL (Recognize, Engage, Affirm Love) Initiative.


 Rosalynd Erney is a policy analyst at CSSP.

CSSP’s Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare’s second brief in the Fight for Our Girls series centers the importance of crafting a more holistic narrative for girls of color who are involved in public systems. The brief suggests this narrative can be achieved by systems applying a trauma-informed approach and intersectional lens when developing programs, policies and practices.

Public systems often subject girls – disproportionately girls of color– to harsher punishments for lower-level crimes and status offenses. In fact, girls who commit these behaviors - such as running away, missing school and violating curfew – can be narrowly defined as social problems that require intervention at the individual level. It is important to avoid conceptualizing status offenses as individual problems or as social problems. Instead, a trauma-informed approach should consider what underlying factors may be leading girls to these behaviors. For example, behaviors like running away, truancy and violating curfew are often methods of survival and are likely caused by underlying trauma such as abuse, commercial sexual exploitation and family conflict.

In addition to the high likelihood that girls are committing status offenses as methods of survival is the challenge of adults’ perceptions of girls, especially on girls of color. The latest Fight for Our Girls brief outlines research conducted by Lisa Pasko, which found that girls, and disproportionately girls of color, face added challenges such as biases, stereotypes and historic oppression when coming in contact with public systems. Pasko’s research, which consisted of interviews with probation officers, social workers, therapists and residential placement staff, revealed that system stakeholders have a hyper focus on policing girls for their perceived sexuality rather than focusing on their overall well-being.

Adultification is yet another challenge that arises for girls of color that can be attributed to adult perception. The recently released Girlhood Interrupted report cites adultification of Black girls as problematic beliefs that they need less nurturing, less protection, less support, less comfort, are more independent and that they know more about sex and other adult topics.

Fight for Our Girls points to recent research to uncover the racial, ethnic and gender biases that may be leading girls of color to be subjected to disparate treatment for status offenses.

Juvenile justice and child welfare systems must work to address the structural inequities and trauma that so often contribute to girls committing status offenses in order to fully support the ability of girls of color to thrive. The latest Fight for Our Girls brief highlights successful organizations that are working to change this narrative and puts forth the following recommendations: Public systems should (1) collect and report data that captures the involvement of youth in child welfare systems for status offenses, (2) develop meaningful cross-systems partnerships, (3) implement community-based prevention models that promote youth stability and placement in the community, (4) utilize youth advisory boards and youth engagement strategies to inform effective program development and implementation, (5) fully implement the reauthorized Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, and (6) create safe and affirming spaces for LGBTQ youth and transgender girls of color.

To learn more, read the full brief here.

Don’t forget to join us on Thursday, October 26, 3-4 p.m EST for our #FFOG: Fight For Our Girls Twitter Chat.

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Erika Feinman is a program and research assistant at CSSP.

An Accelerating Change Awardee Profile: Gwen's Girls

  ·   By Victoria Efetevbia


On September 27th, CSSP announced three winners of the 2017 Accelerating Change Award. Each of the awardees have demonstrated a commitment to reaching and serving diverse populations of young women and girls of color who are involved or at risk of involvement in public systems.

“We are honored to receive CSSP’s 2017 Accelerating Change Award and to be recognized by an entity that is so dedicated to racial equity for girls. We are of the belief that positive impact only happens when we work together,” said Amy Yeu, a program coordinator at Gwen’s Girls. “We are proud to join hands with those accomplishing the same goal: to lift girls out of at-risk situations and into their potential.”

Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Gwen’s Girls was founded in 2002 by the late Police Commander Gwendolyn J. Elliott. Commander Elliott became the first Black woman to serve as a commander on the Pittsburgh Police force in 1986. During her tenure on the force, she witnessed the struggles of young women and girls involved with law enforcement. Her experience fueled her determination to ensure that all young women and girls could lead successful and fulfilling lives. Commander Elliot’s legacy of determination to help young women and girls continues to live through Gwen’s Girls’ mission of providing young women and girls with gender-specific programs, education and opportunities to foster leadership and joy.

Young women and girls of color – especially those involved in public systems – face a unique and alarming trajectory that puts them at risk of poor outcomes. Gwen’s Girls works to disrupt this trajectory through its programs which address the needs of young women and girls in a holistic and comprehensive manner using a strengths-based approach. The programs at Gwen’s Girls build on each young woman and girl’s personal strengths and provide opportunities and experiences for her to be successful.

Gwen’s Girls advocates for the holistic care of young women and girls through its community programs, strengths-based prevention services and various outreach initiatives and trainings. Fifteen years after its inception, Gwen’s Girls continues to service 300 young women and girls a year through residential care, community education, after school and summer programs, STEM, health and wellness and workforce development programming. The organization also provides opportunities for young women and girls to participate in community advocacy and activism within Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Through Gwen’s Girls various programs and services, many of the organization’s participants achieve academic success, lack of re-involvement in the justice system, and reduced incidences of unplanned pregnancies.

Continuing in the footsteps of its founder and her experience on the Pittsburgh Police force, Gwen’s Girls recognizes the importance of addressing how public systems respond to the needs of young women and girls. In 2016, Gwen’s Girls’ inaugural Equity Summit was a catalyst for the creation of the Black Girls Equity Alliance, a grassroots movement comprised of over 50 organizations and community members, which intends to help affect lasting change for Black girls in public systems.

In addition to national recognition and an honorarium, Gwen’s Girls will join other Accelerating Change Award recipients to be part of a network of similar initiatives to share ideas and help accelerate positive change and promising futures for women and girls of color nationally.

To learn more about Gwen’s Girls, please go to www.gwensgirls.org

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Victoria Efetevbia is a program and research assistant at CSSP.

Gender, Sexuality and Parenting

  ·   By Cailin O'Connor and Bill Bettencourt

We are living in a time of rapidly evolving social norms and understanding of the spectrum of human experiences with sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE). (See the Genderbread Person image for an explanation of what is meant by each of these terms and how they make up each individual’s SOGIE.)

In this blog post, we address some key questions about SOGIE and parenting. How should parents respond when their young children embrace a gender identity and/or expression that doesn’t line up with expectations? How should parents respond when their teenage or young adult children come out? What commitments do foster and adoptive parents make to accept the children and young people they bring into their families? On the other side of the parenting equation, does a parent’s SOGIE matter to their ability to love and nurture children? Should parents’ SOGIE be taken into consideration as systems try to find homes for the children needing families in this country?

Progress, Opposition and the Real Cause for Concern

From the legalization of gay marriage to greater acknowledgement and acceptance of transgender people in schools, places of business and the media, progress on these issues is apparent across our society. The scientific and human services communities have kept pace with this evolution. Gender clinics now exist to support parents who are trying to understand and support their children who are finding their way along this spectrum. Organizations such as Gender Spectrum based in Berkeley, California provide resources and supports to children, youth and families.

While this evolution has moved in a progressive, thoughtful and supportive way to ensure healthy development of children, youth and families, not everyone has responded well to these changes. Some individuals and organizations view greater acceptance as wrong. Some see it as an attack on their values and their view of our society. Some families have been reported to child protective services, and many more have faced criticism or harassment, due to others’ concerns about how they respond to their young children’s gender expression. Other parents face scrutiny or legal obstacles to parenthood due to their own sexuality or gender identity. And despite greater acceptance in our society as a whole, too many LGBT and gender non-conforming children and adolescents still face hostility, bullying and rejection from their families and peers.

Strict enforcement of gender norms and rejection of children and adolescents’ true selves has an unacceptable cost in terms of teen suicide, high numbers of runaway/homeless youth, juvenile incarceration and sex trafficking. Many young people end up in the child welfare system because their families have rejected them due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Children and youth experience this in their birth families as well as in foster families and adoptive families; tragically, some experience it more than once.

Pushing strict gender norms is not only harmful to children who are questioning their gender or sexuality. It also perpetuates the effects of a gender binary frame, which has contributed over time to incidents of domestic violence, bullying and other behaviors grounded in an unhealthy belief that power and control are priorities. Everyone benefits when we move beyond that binary thinking.

What Does Good Parenting Look Like?

All children need to be loved, affirmed and supported. . With partners at Family Builders By Adoption in Oakland, California, getREAL developed a guide, Raising Healthy and Happy LGBT & Gender Non-Conforming Children, to help parents navigate what may be unfamiliar terrain. Birth parent, foster parent or adoptive parent, it boils down to being loving, supportive, accepting and open with your child, and advocating for them with other people or institutions (like church or school) that may not be as supportive.

This is actually a good approach to parenting regardless of a child’s SOGIE. All children need unconditional love and support from their families, and all children benefit from an open and accepting approach that encourages them to express their emotions, follow their interests and explore all aspects of their own identity. Parents who allow their children that freedom – without enforcing strict norms of masculinity or femininity – will see their children grow and thrive.

Through getREAL, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) works to help (or in some cases encourage) public systems and agencies to update their policies and practices so that they can better serve, and not further harm, all of the young people they serve. While there may not be a lot we can do in the policy realm to ensure that birth parents will love their children unconditionally, systems can take steps to reduce the likelihood of failed adoptions or foster placements based on lack of knowledge or unwillingness to accept a child’s SOGIE. For example, they can educate potential foster and adoptive parents, ask them about their commitment to keeping a child in their family regardless of the child’s emerging gender identity and sexual orientation and provide access to gender clinics and other supports as needed.

What About Parents’ SOGIE?

Some people have a related concern about how parents’ SOGIE affects their ability to raise children – or how it should affect their rights to do so, as we see in recent moves by some state legislatures and faith-based organizations to limit the rights of LGBT adults to become foster or adoptive parents.

An adult’s SOGIE, relationship or marital status has no bearing on their ability to raise a child – in fact, research indicates that children of gay and lesbian parents are less likely to be abused or neglected, and more likely to thrive, than other children. (See a summary of relevant research: Patterson, C. J., & Farr, R. H. (2015). Children of Lesbian and Gay Parents: Reflections on the Research–Policy Interface. The Wiley Handbook of Developmental Psychology in Practice: Implementation and Impact, 121.There is no justification for keeping LGBTQ parents from bringing children into their families – through foster care, kinship care, adoption, surrogacy or otherwise.

What Kinds of Support Do Families Need?

CSSP’s Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework describes characteristics that all families need to support optimal child development and reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect, while our Youth Thrive framework describes a parallel set of protective and promotive factors that young people need to thrive. All families and youth need support to build and maintain these protective factors throughout their lives.

Through the lens of these protective and promotive factors, it becomes easier to understand some of the challenges that families and youth can face, as well as the types of support they might need as they navigate issues of SOGIE. What support can we provide so that all families can love, affirm and support their children to become their authentic selves, able to love and embrace all aspects of their identity?

PROTECTIVE FACTOR

SUPPORT NEEDED

Parental and youth resilience: Managing stress and functioning well when faced with challenges, adversity and trauma Parents may question their own ability to parent their children who are questioning their sexuality or gender orientation, being bullied at school or otherwise struggling. Parents may benefit from support groups such as PFLAG.

Young people who are questioning their sexuality or gender orientation, or who are being bullied, need reassurance that they will be loved and supported regardless of their SOGIE. Resources like the It Gets Better Project can help young people see a positive future for themselves despite their current situation.
 Social connections: Positive relationships that provide emotional, informational, instrumental and spiritual support

Young people may benefit from connecting with peers who are similarly developing. Parents, too, benefit from connecting with others who are facing similar parenting situations. 

For both parents and youth, acceptance and support from their extended families and friends is also critical. 
 Knowledge of parenting and child development: Understanding child development and parenting strategies that support physical, cognitive, language, social and emotional development  Parents need additional knowledge about SOGIE if their child is gender-nonconforming or gay; young people also need access to this information about their own development. Books such as Dr. Diane Ehrensaft’s Gender Creative Child can be very helpful.
Concrete support in times of need: Access to concrete support and services that address a family’s needs and help minimize stress caused by challenges   Access to supports such as gender clinics and parent support groups is critical when a young child says their gender is different than their sex at birth or when a youth is questioning their sexual identity or says they think they are gay.
 
Young people whose families are not accepting of their SOGIE will need additional concrete supports, up to and including housing and financial support if their families reject them. 
Social and emotional competence of children / Cognitive and social-emotional competence of youth: Family and child interactions that help children develop the ability to communicate clearly, recognize and regulate their emotions and establish and maintain relationships   Parents need to understand the impact of family acceptance vs. rejection behaviors on health outcomes for children and strategies to support their child’s social-emotional development. (See familyproject.sfsu.edu/publications.) 

Young people need to experience love, affirmation and acceptance – from their families, friends, teachers and other supportive adults – to support their own development and self-esteem.


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Cailin O'Connor is a senior associate at CSSP and Bill Bettencourt is a senior fellow at CSSP.

Congress Missed the Deadline to Reauthorize CHIP: What Happens Now?

  ·   By Shadi Houshyar and Rhiannon Reeves,

Saturday came and went and Congress failed to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a popular health program that provides coverage to the 9 million children who rely on it. The urgency to reauthorize CHIP was not news to Congress as advocates have been voicing the strong and unified message on the need for a five-year extension of the program for some time. Yet Congress allowed the funding for CHIP to lapse, having spent the better part of the year attempting instead, to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 

Now it appears that the House Energy and Commerce Committee is planning to take up a package tomorrow, the same day that the Senate Finance Committee is expected to consider The Keeping Kids Insurance Dependable and Secure Act (S. 1827) - a bipartisan bill to extend funding for CHIP for five years. The House package will include, in addition to a five-year reauthorization of CHIP, funding for community health centers and for Puerto Rico over a two-year period, in addition to other health-care extenders. While there will likely be movement on CHIP this week, there are a few sticking points. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has identified its pay-fors for the package but the Senate Finance Committee has not. Also, no Democrats have yet signed on to the House bill. 

While we wait for Congress to act, States are now planning internally for the end of CHIP funding, with some states beginning to shut down their programs within a few months – leading to significant disruptions in children’s coverage. Aside from being compelled to impose enrollment freezes which would barre new applicants from obtaining coverage, states must also begin the process of informing families that their children will be dis-enrolled from healthcare coverage. While many States have funding through the end of the year, they have to immediately begin making system changes to prepare for shutting their programs down. 

As States look ahead to freezing enrollments and shutting down programs, they continue to make difficult day-to-day decisions, for instance, around vaccine purchases. These decisions must be made early. As we head into flu season, states buying vaccines on a quarterly basis will have to decide now whether to buy vaccines for winter 2017-18. Without funding certainty, many states will find it difficult to make these decisions and could be forced not to purchase vaccines.  For low-income families, access to such preventative services is essential. 

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, at least 10 states are expected to exhaust their CHIP funds by the end of 2017 and 32 states project they will exhaust federal funds as of the end of March 2018. The states likely to be hardest hit are Utah, Minnesota, Arizona, Texas, West Virginia and Nevada. Of these, Utah has stated that it will run out of funding by the end of the year and is making plans to close the program and Nevada is preparing to freeze enrollment on November 1 and to end coverage altogether on November 30. 

CHIP must stay strong so that health care remains accessible and of high-quality for families with young children facing barriers to coverage. As this week unfolds, Congress must move quickly to enact a five-year extension of CHIP.

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Shadi Houshyar is a senior associate at CSSP and Rhiannon Reeves is a policy analyst at CSSP.

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