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Healthy relationships are important for the positive development of children and youth, and are especially important for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) youth of color in child welfare. LGBTQ youth are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system and within that demographic, youth of color are particularly disproportionately represented. According to the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being – II, 61.8 percent of LGB children in child welfare are youth of color. Not only do LGBTQ youth of color experience disproportionate representation in the child welfare system, when systems fail to meet their needs they are also at a “heightened risk of exploitation due to experiences including rejection and desperate need of shelter, food and other necessities”.

The importance of healthy relationships for youth was apparent in CSSP-led focus groups, where youth spoke of experiences with healthy and unhealthy relationships, including sexual exploitation, and the response (or lack thereof) by child welfare systems. One barrier youth identified was the inaccessible language used by systems to identify and document these experiences, including the use of terms like sex trafficking or commercial sexual activity in assessments and intake forms. In order for child welfare systems to be able to identify and serve youth who have experienced sexual exploitation, it is important to use language that resonates with and matches the lived experiences of youth and to work with young people to identify healthy relationship patterns.

Often, young people involved in sexual exploitation are unaware of the exploitative nature of their relationships. For example, a young person might perceive the exchange or expectation of sex in return for basic needs such as food or shelter as a normal part of an intimate relationship. Youth also cite fear of punishment and resulting stigma as to why they are hesitant to identify their experiences as sexual exploitation to adults and systems professionals. In addition, implicit bias on behalf of workers and perceptions of promiscuity or perceptions that youth of color are older and less innocent than their white peers may affect how assessment tools are applied for LGBTQ youth of color. Consequently, when the language systems use around sex trafficking and exploitation at intake and in assessments does not match the experiences of LGBTQ youth of color in the child welfare system, both systems and young people themselves may be prevented from accurately identifying those who have experienced sexual exploitation. This lapse between language and lived experience in turn also prevents the system from connecting these youth with appropriate supports and services.

In 2014, President Obama signed the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (H.R. 4980) into law which requires child welfare agencies to identify, report and support youth who are either at risk or have been victims of sex trafficking. Our focus groups and interviews concluded that in order to fully meet this requirement, the language utilized by the child welfare system must enable and support youth and fully engage LGBTQ youth of color.

Our recent brief, Bridging the Language Gap in Child Welfare: Identifying and Supporting LGBTQ Youth who have Experienced Sexual Exploitation, recommends ways for systems to support the identification of LGBTQ youth of color who have experienced sexual exploitation. States should:

  • Ensure youth engagement in the design and implementation of improved screening tools to increase capacity for child welfare systems to identify youth involved with sexual exploitation and trafficking;
  • Utilize multidisciplinary teams to ensure consistent language and definitions across systems;
  • Eliminate barriers to accessing child welfare services by updating and clarifying key definitions and terminology; and
  • Raise the minimum age from 18 to 21 years old for instances of sex trafficking that must demonstrate force, fraud or coercion.

These four recommendations aim to remove barriers to identifying LGBTQ youth who have experienced sexual exploitation. Identifying youth is the first step to connecting them with the appropriate and necessary supports and services. If child welfare systems are not able to identify youth, then they will not be able to provide supports and services that address unhealthy relationships and strengthen healthy relationships for LGBTQ youth of color.

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Justine Kim is a communications intern at CSSP. She is currently an undergraduate at Northwestern University, majoring in social policy and Asian American studies. 

The Ongoing Fight for LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care

  ·   By Amelia Esenstad

The past month we have seen a number of policies, plans and recommendations that, if or when implemented, will have many negative consequences for LGBTQ youth in foster care – reinforcing the need to, now more than ever, actively stand up for and support these youth. While we will continue our efforts at the federal level, we are also committed to highlighting work being done within states. 

Recent CSSP research, which will be featured in a forthcoming paper with Children’s Rights, Inc. and Lambda Legal, looked at state law, policy and licensing regulations across the country in the areas of child welfare, juvenile justice and runaway/homeless systems. Results show that while child welfare systems in 27 states and DC name sexual orientation and gender identity in non-discrimination protections, only four states require that placement decisions of transgender youth be made according to gender identity and only three states include gender identity in their definition of sex or gender. 

Our assessment of every state is documented in the map below, highlighting exemplary states and those with room for improvement. We will further explore the opportunities presented in all states to improve equity and outcomes for LGBTQ children and youth in care.














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Amelia Esenstad is a policy analyst at CSSP.

Now is the Time to #getR.E.A.L

  ·   By Bill Bettencourt

Many of us have been awaiting the direction that the Trump Administration will take on issues impacting LGBTQ and Gender Non-Conforming system-involved youth. There is cause for concern. Yesterday, the Departments of Justice and Education withdrew trans-affirming educational guidance issued by the Obama Administration.  This guidance supported the safety and well-being of transgender youth in school settings and specifically addressed the use of bathrooms and locker rooms. The guidance was rescinded purportedly because of confusion in the courts, schools and communities about the interpretation of the word “sex” under Title IX, the portion of the Education Amendment Acts of 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs receiving federal funding. However, the previous administration; professional organizations, such as the National Education Association; policy organizations; advocates; schools and parents spent much time helping policymakers and communities understand and recognize gender identity as a component of “sex”. Their efforts made visible the needs of transgender youth. The rescission of this guidance is a strong effort to keep transgender people invisible to our society and to dishonor and negate their gender identity.  

We have yet to see what additional actions will be taken by the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies that are supposed to support all children, youth and families. For several weeks now, there have been rumors and a leaked draft of a proposed executive order allowing for “religious exemptions” for programs receiving federal dollars to refuse service to LGBTQ children and adults based on religious beliefs.  The order has yet to be issued, but this order and other similar actions would actively undermine the safety and well-being of LGBTQ children, youth, families and communities. 

These actions at the federal level are having real life, stressful and harmful effects on youth. Young people who are not visible and have not come out are more likely to stay in the closet. Young people in schools and communities across the country are experiencing more discrimination and bullying and generally these youth will feel less safe as the Trump Administration’s decisions to deny them their rights, whether under Title IX or other provisions, leaves the door open for continued discrimination and traumatization. 

Young people in schools and communities across the country are experiencing more discrimination and bullying and generally these youth will feel less safe as the Trump Administration’s decisions to deny them their rights, whether under Title IX or other provisions, leaves the door open for continued discrimination and traumatization.

Currently only 19 states have non-discrimination policies that include and protect LGBTQ youth. The remaining states offer no such protection, although some local jurisdictions in these states have established their own inclusive policies.  Communities, schools and allies across the country are putting in place policies and practices that affirm LGBTQ children, youth and families, support their well-being and are examples for how we want our future to look. We must be diligent in supporting and sharing these examples to help spread them. 

Within this broader attack on the rights of LGBTQ young people and families, we are concerned about those young people in contact with the child welfare system, as they often have less family support that guide their healthy sexual and identity development. LGBTQ youth and youth of color are disproportionality represented in child welfare systems and we are concerned about the stigma and discrimination they experience while simultaneously dealing with past trauma. The ways in which child welfare systems work now to ensure LGBTQ and Gender Non-Conforming children and families are supported will be different depending on the state, urban or rural community within which they operate.  We urge leaders of these systems, many of whom are our partners, to remain focused on the mission and mandate to achieve permanence, safety and well-being for all system-involved children. In this climate, child welfare leaders, staff and partners must work even harder to ensure that these children and youth get equal access to education and equitable opportunities to promote healthy development so they have fulfilling lives. 

As we see what comes of pending court cases, federal policies, legislation and executive orders, let us stay focused on our mission and how within our very diverse national landscape we can collectively support one another and find ways to be creative in terms of policy, practice and the use of our resources.  Please know that we at CSSP are committed to doing our part moving forward and seeking out and working with our partners to support our public systems and its partners in their efforts.

This is a continually evolving issue and our analysis and specific recommendations will change as we learn new information. Please continue to check our blog, at CSSP.org for the newest information.

For more information about policies that support LGBTQ youth in child welfare see, view our report Out of the Shadows: Supporting LGBTQ Youth in Child Welfare through Cross-System Collaboration. 
 

Bill Bettencourt is a Senior Fellow at CSSP and leads work on getR.E.A.L., an initiative that supports the healthy sexual and identity development of children and youth involved in public systems, particularly children and youth who identify as LGBTQ


We are all watching, as nearly every federal governmental system is being led by individuals who want to see those systems fail (DOE, DOJ, DOL, EPA, HUD, HHS), and through the Orwellian chaos, I am reminded that these same systems have been failing my community for several centuries. And somehow, we –queer communities of color— always find ways to survive, organize and fight for the visibility of our worth. Now more than ever, I am encouraged by the organic creation of eco-systems of liberation by queer youth who have always had to fill in the gaps, when government systems have failed our community.

A recent manifestation of the eco-system concept was an event that the getR.E.A.L Initiative co-sponsored and put on by the Keeping Ballroom Community Alive Network (KBCAN). KBCAN launched their second annual Ballroom Symposium, as they organized the Ballroom community to envision a world where queer communities of color are liberated through unapologetic radical love, self-mobilization and transformative healing. The Ballroom Symposium was inspiring, creative and a launch of a series of similar events that will take place in locales across the country. A year ago I became a member of the House of Garcon and a founding member of Comme De Garcon Pro (CDG Pro), an intentional space within the House that seeks to harness community knowledge and skills, to create opportunities for House and Ballroom members to grow spiritually, professionally and civically. KBCAN and CDG Pro are just a few examples of spaces created through resiliency, working to get closer to liberation.

Let’s just be clear. Black and Brown communities, since the inception of this country, have been living in a world where systems are designed to disrupt our lives, criminalize our bodies, patrol our behaviors and police our humanity. This is a world that has intentionally— and in most cases— strategically created mechanism to ensure that our lives be devalued, pathologized and left to fend off a set of historical, harmful and institutionalized policies and practices. So out of necessity, queer Black and Brown communities have created our own connected parts, our own community of resiliency, our own sub-cultures, our own spaces and our own systems where we can experience liberation, self-determination and the power to radically shape (and reshape) our lives.

The word radical finds it origins from the Latin word “radicalis.” It simply means “of the root.” Thus, if my community feels the bruises of broken systems, if we regurgitate the trauma of multi-generational state sanctioned violence against our core identities, and if we can clearly see the strategic design of systems of oppression, then we must find radical solutions that tug at the very root of white supremacy, heteronormativity, gender-based violence and trans-misogynoir. Fortunately, communities that stand nearest to the margins, are doing just that. While creating direct confrontation at the very core of systematic harm and violence, queer communities of color—learning from the black radical tradition— have created societies that are building within them, eco-systems of liberation. I define eco-systems of liberation as fluid and sustained spaces created only through resiliency for the purpose of co-investment in radical acts of love, recognition, joy, affirmation, growth, support, and healing.

In this time, nothing is more important than being radical. “Radical” allows youth learn to survive (and thrive) when a generation of people preaching the politics of respectability are more concerned about policing our gender expression. “Radical” is how black girl magic built movements and sustained them throughout decades. “Radical” is how one taps into the imagination of the beyond, to be able to conjure up a just world that we have never known. 

Eco-systems of Liberation are radical. They are a response to rotten roots that have plagued this country since its inception. They can be found at the intersections, in compounds, through nuance and complexity. They are adverse to monoliths, norms and respectability. Eco-systems of liberation are the small informal and interconnected systems that were conjured up at the crossroads of freedom, self-determination and mobilization. They are a resistance to oppression, hatred and bigotry, but more importantly, they are a response to a core need for chosen-family, love and acceptance.

I am honored to be a part of the eco-system of liberation that has been longstanding within the House and Ballroom Scene, since it was created by Crystal Labeija, a black trans women nearly half a century ago. In times like this, we will continue to organize, mobilize, advocate and fight to hold government systems accountable. But as they continue to fail, we will continue to create eco-systems of liberation that allow us to never abandon our hope. And through hope, I know that freedom and liberation will be actualized in this world. Forever forward.
 

Jonathan Lykes is a policy analyst at CSSP.

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released updated poverty numbers for 2015 which projected higher household incomes, lower levels of poverty and higher rates of health insurance coverage than in the previous year. Despite these improvements, 43.1 million (13.5 percent of people) still lived in poverty in 2015. Of those 43.1 million people living in poverty, 14.5 million were children and 4.2 million were young children under the age of five. For many children and families of color, who are disproportionately impacted by poverty, the challenges of poverty are compounded by historic disinvestment in communities, and the legacy of racially discriminatory public policies that contribute to discriminatory job markets, housing markets and school systems as well as other barriers to economic opportunity.

Although lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) or gender non-conforming families and individuals face similar socio-economic challenges as other individuals who share their gender identity, race, ethnicity, age and disability, systems of oppression and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression often result in disparate poverty rates for LGBT communities. While there is no single LGBT experience, the impact of inequality towards an individual’s economic security vary from person to person based on their multiple identities (which includes race, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, ability, socioeconomic status and more).

Research shows that youth who identify as LGBTQ often experience disparities in education, bullying in schools, housing instability, youth probation and homelessness when compared to their heterosexual, gender conforming peers. Moreover, they are more likely to experience family rejection as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity and face a heightened risk of child welfare involvement. Once involved in the child welfare system, these youth are more likely than their peers to experience placement instability and poor mental and behavioral health outcomes.

Furthermore, many LGBT families and individuals often endure “financial penalties” as the result of discriminatory policies at the federal, state and local levels. The failure of LGBT-inclusive policies today allows for legalized employment, housing, and healthcare discrimination, exclusion from obtaining health insurance and identity documents recognizing gender identity, and hostile, unsafe school environments. These financial penalties are even greater for LGBT families and individuals of color who are furthered compounded by other forms of discrimination as people of color – such as disproportional involvement in multiple public systems. With the presence of anti-LGBT laws and the lack of inclusive policies, LGBT communities are at a great risk of experiencing economic insecurity and poverty.

A report released by The Movement Advancement Project and the Center for American Progress highlighted the struggle experienced by LGBT families and individuals and calls for policies that can be more inclusive to strengthen economic security for LGBT families and individuals.

When examining data affecting the youngest residents, children of same-sex couples are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty compared to children living in households of married opposite-sex couples. It is also shown that 19.2 percent of children living with female same-sex couples and 23.4 percent of children living with male same-sex couples are poor, compared to 12.1 percent of married opposite-sex couples.The report found that single LGBT parents raising children are three times more likely to have incomes near the poverty line than their non-LGBT counterparts. Similarly, married or partnered LGBT parents raising children are twice as likely to have household incomes near the poverty line compared to married or partnered non-LGBT parents. While the difference in near poverty rate was smaller for people living alone – 20.7 percent of LGBT people living along compared to 17 percent of non-LGBT people living alone – these differences indicate the pervasiveness of poverty for LGBT adults.

These disparate poverty rates are even more troubling for LGBT people of color, who face higher poverty rates than their white peers and astronomically higher rates than the general population.  A study by the Williams Institute found that African American same-sex couples have much higher rates of poverty than white same-sex couples and children raised by black parents in same-sex couples have extremely high rates of poverty (at 38 percent for those living with lesbian couples  and 52 percent for those living with gay male couples).

The Impact of Policy

Successfully supporting LGBT families, children and individuals living in and near poverty in their efforts to achieve economic stability require strategies that are well-coordinated and responsive to the connection between economic security and anti-LGBT laws. Although some policy strategies are universally important, others need to be administered differently for families depending on their individual circumstances. LGBT families or families with LGBT children may require support and services that are different and more intensive than those needed by non-LGBT families.

Many families and individuals will turn to federal, state and local government programs that provide basic aid such as food assistance, rental assistance, cash assistance, and other limited benefits. However, because not all government programs have the same definition of family in determining eligibility for benefits, many LGBT families and individuals may be unable to obtain vital assistance during times of economic strain, simply because they are LGBTQ.

We must work to ensure that our poverty reduction efforts are also inclusive of LGBT people, which includes LGBT families and their children. Although the poverty data released last week showed that we are making important progress, there is still significant work to do to strengthen the economic security of LGBT families and individuals. 

To learn more about CSSP’s recent research working to support young children and their families, read our latest policy brief, Supporting Children: Addressing Poverty, Promoting Opportunity and Advancing Equity in Policy.

To learn more about the impact of poverty on young children’s health, learning and development, read CSSP’s new fact sheet, Poverty in Early Childhood.
 

Viet Tran is a communications associate at CSSP. 

For many youth in the child welfare system, especially those who identify as LGBTQ, ethnic and racial minorities or young people with disabilities, effectively addressing the root of disparities they face within and across multiple systems is important. Youth identifying as LGBTQ are overrepresented in child welfare, and they experience higher instances of homelessness, poor educational outcomes and youth probation. These overrepresentation are even starker for LGBTQ youth of color. The data on LGBTQ youth, particularly youth of color, present a grim and disturbing picture about their experiences and outcomes. Child welfare systems, who are responsible for the safety and well-being of these young people, should focus on policies and practices that reduce disparate outcomes, provide that LGBTQ youth have resources necessary for healthy development, promotes safety of youth who identify as LGBTQ and commits to achieving their permanency.

CSSP research notes that significant opportunities exist for states and counties to use innovative strategies to promote the health and well-being of LGBTQ youth and their families. The following policy strategies and state examples are a few such efforts that target increasing opportunities for LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system. These policy strategies fall under three primary categories: 

(1) Ensure all youth have the resources necessary for healthy development

Youth in foster care need a range of physical and mental health services and educational supports. However, youth who identify as LGBTQ frequently confront barriers to accessing these supports because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. To ensure all youth receive appropriate child welfare, health care, mental health and educational services and equal access to resources that promote healthy development and self-esteem, systems must embrace parallel approaches to promoting accessibility. Because a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not always known, policies and programs must be implemented in ways that respect and value all youth regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Additionally, policies should highlight the importance of acceptance and cultural competence throughout services and agencies that serve as common entry points for children and youth in foster care and connected systems.

Many youth highlighted the need for ways in which placements can signal their openness and affirmation of youth’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. One youth who moved from different foster homes stated he did not feel that he could disclose his sexuality because he did not know how his foster parents would react.

“I think it would have helped me if I would have known that my foster mom or my foster dad were okay with [my sexuality]. I never knew if I could disclose it and I never did. And I think that’s where I think a lot of my outlashing, my attitude, my anger, my depression and my rebellion came from. I felt like nobody understood me.”

(2) Promote the safety of LGBTQ youth

Many LGBTQ youth in child welfare have experienced neglect or abuse from their families because of their sexual orientation or gender identities, and more than half experience verbal or physical harassment at school. Regulations addressing this heightened risk are necessary to ensure the safety, permanency and well-being of LGBTQ youth – the same entitlement afforded to all children – across settings. Strategies should include explicit prohibition of bullying, as well as balancing the need for LGBTQ youth to receive services in appropriate, non-hostile settings while avoiding unnecessary isolation.

(3) Commit to achieving permanency for LGBTQ youth

LGBTQ youth, like all youth in the child welfare system, are entitled to the least restrictive placement and to adequate assistance in achieving permanency in a stable, healthy, culturally appropriate and lasting living situation with at least one committed adult. Permanency also involves reliable, continuous, and healthy connections with siblings, birth parents, extended family and networks of other supports identified by youth and families. Yet, LGBTQ youth lose their placements more frequently than non-LGBTQ youth in foster care, report more abuse in congregate care, are more likely to age out of foster care with a lack of natural supports and suffer worse educational outcomes as a result of multiple placements. To address these negative trends, strategies should prioritize individualized placement decisions that are in line with each youth’s permanency goals across settings while using personalized supportive networks and provide needed education and training for origin and foster parents, agency staff and all children in the system.

In crafting solutions that not only reduce disparate outcomes but also promote the health and well-being of LGBTQ youth involved in child welfare, advocates and policymakers must first understand the multiple and often compounding factors that contribute to these disparate outcomes.

Targeted, cross-system collaboration that ensures all youth have the resources necessary for health development, promotes safety of youth who identify as LGBTQ and commits to achieving their permanency can improve outcomes for LGBTQ youth and families who come into contact with child welfare based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, class, ability and immigration status, is critical to better serving all children and families through child welfare services. The practices and policy recommendations detailed here are concrete, implementable examples that, with appropriate time, resources and support, have the potential to significantly improve the experiences of LGBTQ children and families in contact with child welfare – and increase equity for all families.

To learn more in detail about these three policy strategies, read the full report Out of the Shadows: Supporting LGBTQ Youth in Child Welfare through Cross-System Collaboration.

Viet Tran is a communications associate at CSSP. 


I attended my first  Ball on City Hall Black Pride Celebration on May 23, a gathering to highlight the collective talents of the DC House and Ball (also known as ballroom) community through art and civic engagement. The event was supported by the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s getR.E.A.L Initiative and showcased artwork by fellows from the getR.E.A.L Marvelous Whirlwind project, including pieces by our in-residence artist JeNae’ Taylor. The art exhibit at the event chronicled the struggles and triumphs of LGBTQ youth of color navigating involvement with public systems, like foster care, and systemic  racism and oppression.

With more than three decades of relevance, the ballroom subculture has gained thousands of members and has inspired its own documentary and yet remains largely unknown to many. For those who haven’t heard of the ballroom scene, I recommend watching Paris is Burning, a documentary that features New York’s ballroom subculture in the 80s. The film depicts African American and Hispanic gay men, drag queens and transgender women as they compete in fashion runways and vogue dancing battles. Many of the contestants competing for trophies represent “Houses,” often taking their names from fashion icons like Balenciaga, Dior, Mizrahi and Versace. 

The ballroom culture plays a much larger role than as mere competitions, but importantly serves as families and social groups for ostracized LGTBQ youth and those youth who may be seeking advice and guidance.

“A lot of gay kids and gay youth were turned away from their own families, and they’d get together because they found this social network in the clubs and on the streets,” said Power Infiniti, “mother” of the House Infiniti of Florida.

The national subculture evolved from the Harlem drag balls throughout the 1930’s Harlem Renaissance. It provides a platform that celebrates all forms of gender and sexual expression.   It also provides many black and Latino youth and young adults with a chosen kinship structure through which collective impact, resilience and vital resources are shared. Today balls are as necessary and crucial in the cohesion of LGBTQ culture as they were in their formative years nearly nine decades ago. Historian George Chauncey stated that Harlem “enhanced the solidarity of the gay world and symbolized the continuing centrality of gender inversion to gay culture.” Powering through adversity, arrests by police, disapproval by politicians and continual harassment by others, the ballroom community created a scene that became unstoppable because of the persistence of its participants and organizers who fought for an inclusive and safe space.

But today, LGBTQ youth, particularly those of color, face more dangers than ever, and we need to make sure that we don’t exclude them when we speak of “community.” And we must preserve the spaces that allow many LGBTQ youth to feel safe and be themselves.

Following the massacre in Orlando on June 12, 2016, spaces and communities like the ballroom scene and houses become vital lifelines to many. Ballroom acts as liberating sanctuaries, transformative sites of community and safe and loving homes. These are spaces that we need to celebrate and defend.

Viet Tran is a communications associate at CSSP.

CSSP’s getR.E.A.L Initiative welcomes Vida Khavar as the new getR.E.A.L project director based in California, where she works to make sure LGBTQ and gender non-conforming youth are included in the child welfare policy decisions. With a seasoned background collaborating with child welfare agencies throughout California and other states, Khavar has assisted agencies in building or enhancing already existing programs. These include: foster care, treatment foster care, independent living programs, group homes and residential treatment. Khavar strives to make permanency a center stage in all areas of child welfare so that more children and families can benefit from services that focus on positive outcomes for children and families involved in the foster care system.

Prior to joining the getR.E.A.L initiative, Khavar worked as a permanency director for Five Acre in southern California, focusing in the areas of foster care, intensive treatment foster care, adoption and group home. She has also worked as a consultant with the RISE initiative at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, an initiative funded by the Children’s Bureau, Administration on Children, Youth and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The RISE initiative works with families, as well as government and social service organizations, to combat the heterosexism and transphobia that too frequently result in the mistreatment and even abuse of LGBTQ youth and to reform policies and practices that aren’t sensitive to the needs of LGBTQ youth.

Born in Geneva, Switzerland, Khavar received her bachelor’s in psychology from California State University – Northridge and her master’s in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University in Los Angeles. She is also a licensed marriage and family therapist who has practiced for more than 20 years.

Vida can be reached at vkhavar@familybuilders.org.

Viet Tran is a communications associate at CSSP.




The Center for the Study of Social Policy is excited to introduce JeNae’ Taylor, an in-residence artist with our get R.E.A.L initiative’s Marvelous Whirlwind Project (MWP) where she uses storytelling, mixed media and movement as a roadmap for healing.

For nine months, the MWP fellows will participate in weekly workshops to navigate their experiences of homelessness, foster care, criminal justice and mental health systems as Black LGBTQ youth and work not only to succeed but celebrate their unique experiences and build creative solutions for their community.

When asked what inspires her work, she quotes civil rights activist and actor, Ossie Davis: “Any form of art is a form of power; it has impact, it can affect change. It can not only move us, it makes us move.”

As a native of Washington, D.C. and a graduate of Columbia College’s Theatre Directing Program, JeNae’ is a theatre practitioner, teaching artist, youth enthusiast, culture emcee and curator of black girl magic. Using creativity as a platform to discover, explore and discuss her deepest cravings and curiosities in life, she has produced work across the globe since 2003.

JeNae’ is also a member of the Black Youth Project 100’s Healing and Safety Council and The MB Collective, a group that honors the founding members of The South Side Community Art Center and Dr. Margaret Burroughs.

Listed below are some of JeNae’s work:

JeNae’ Taylor talks about her public artwork against gun violence in Chicago.

Paper Trail by JeNae’ Taylor in Sixty Inches From Center.


Viet Tran is a communications associate at CSSP.

A Closer Look at Foster Youth and Sex Trafficking

  ·   By Susan Mapp

Sex trafficking of children in the United States occurs to children of all races and ethnicities and to both boys and girls. As I note in my forthcoming book – Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking – while specific numbers are unknown, it is known that children in the foster care system are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked. In 2014, 68 percent of those reported to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and found to be exploited through sex trafficking had been in foster care when they went missing.

This heightened vulnerability is for a number of reasons, and includes both the experiences that brought them into foster care, as well as their experiences while in care. Having experienced child maltreatment greatly increases the risk of being trafficked. Although clearly not every maltreated child will be trafficked, the professionals I interviewed noted that the vast majority of their clients had been abused as children: emotionally, physically, and/or sexually. Their experience is supported by extensive research.

This linkage may be due to lessons that maltreated children are taught. Children who have been abused are taught that people who love you mistreat you, that they do not have the right to say no and that they cannot control what happens to their bodies. Emotional abuse teaches children that they are of low worth and that those who say they love them will demean and disrespect them. Children who are physically abused have learned that physical violence is an expected part of a loving relationship. If they have been sexually abused, they learn that their body does not belong to them, that it exists for someone else's pleasure. These children are also taught to keep secrets and hide information from authorities, a required skill while trafficked.

A child found to be physically, sexually or emotionally abused by their parent or caretaker, may be placed in foster care. However, this can create another set of risk factors. As Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, a sex trafficking survivor and alumna of the foster care system, stated in her testimony to Congress:

Youth within the system are more vulnerable to becoming sexually exploited because youth accept and normalize the experience of being used as an object of financial gain by people who are supposed to care for us, we experience various people who control our lives, and we lack the opportunity to gain meaningful relationships and attachments.

Youth within the system are more vulnerable to becoming sexually exploited because youth accept and normalize the experience of being used as an object of financial gain by people who are supposed to care for us, we experience various people who control our lives, and we lack the opportunity to gain meaningful relationships and attachments. 

Once in the foster care system, too many youth are in foster homes with caregivers who do not truly care about them. Ms. Pettigrew stated that caregivers often use the support money from the state to purchase luxuries for themselves, and the youth are told they are simply the means to a paycheck. Thus, even before they are trafficked, these children are being taught that their purpose is to bring money into a household. An advocate reported a survivor stated that for her:

Foster care was the training ground to being trafficked. She understood that she was attached to a check. And what she points out is that at least the pimp told her that he loved her, and she never heard that in any of her foster care placements.

Adolescents in foster care experience the natural adolescent yearning for freedom and autonomy, however those in foster care have even less say over what happens in their lives than their same-age peers. Their lives are dictated by their caseworkers, foster parents and likely, other professionals. Adolescents in foster care often report plans are made for them without their input and feeling that they are not heard when they do speak up. This can be particularly true for those in a residential center, the type of placement from which youth are most likely to run, they do not have the same freedom of movement as their peers. Therefore, when they are seemingly offered a chance to be on their own and make their own decisions, or they run away, they will take it, and can thus be recruited into a trafficking situation.

Those who are members of the LGBTQ community are at further risk. Sexual minority youth are significantly more likely to be involved with the child welfare system than sexual majority youth. Once in the system, they continue to face difficulties due to discrimination, including rejection by foster parents, verbal and physical harassment and hostility. They report poorer treatment by the child welfare system, a higher number of foster care placements, are more likely to be placed in a group home and are more likely to be homeless.

To help prevent these youth from being trafficked, all those working in the child welfare system, whether as caseworkers, residential center staff, foster parents or others, must be made aware of this issue and the red flags that may signal a child is being groomed or trafficked. For example, Georgia developed a webinar to address this need due to the busy schedules of child welfare staff to ensure they had the needed information, while other states, such as Pennsylvania, have offered trainings to foster parents. They must also constantly work to meet a child's needs in a healthy way and ensure that the child feels accepted. Regardless of their role, all citizens need to be aware of this crime so we can stop the selling of the nation’s children for people’s sexual desires. You can learn more in - Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking - available in June 2016.


Susan Mapp, MSSW, Ph.D., is a professor and chair of the Social Work Department at Elizabethtown College.

Sixto Cancel, Founder, Think of UsCSSP’s getR.E.A.L initiative welcomes Think of Us as a new partner in its national network. Think of Us, founded by Sixto Cancel, is an online web and mobile platform that started as a commitment to action at the Clinton Global Initiative University. Today, the initiative is a digital tool that supports youth during their transition into adulthood.

With the support of getR.E.A.L, Think of Us will launch its evidenced-informed coaching app called Unify later this year through the Santa Clara County Department of Children and the Washington, D.C. Department of Behavioral Health. The mobile application will provide young people with interactive videos, self-coaching activities and planning tools to help them identify and set personal goals, while also providing a framework to achieve them. 

“It’s important to us to use technology to reach today’s foster youth—after all, they are part of the Millennial generation, a demographic known for its digital nativity and embrace of innovation,” says Cancel, who was recently honored as a White House Champion of Change for Foster Care.

Watch this space for updates about the Unify app, and click here to join the getR.E.A.L network.


Viet Tran is a communications associate at CSSP.


All children deserve to be part of a welcoming, safe and loving home – and that includes youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and gender non-conforming (GNC). According to a report by The Williams Institute, up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, yet fewer than 7 percent of kids nationwide are LGBT. 

The discrepancy of those percentages suggests a strong need for supportive services and housing for LGBT and GNC youth who experience homelessness, as well as greater awareness of how the trauma of having no place to live impacts their development and opportunities in life. 

The True Colors Fund, co-founded by Cyndi Lauper, started the first #40toNoneDay in 2015 with a message that everyone has a role to play in the movement to end LGBT and GNC youth homelessness.

“While family rejection is the most commonly cited reason for LGBT youth homelessness, it’s just one piece of the puzzle – a very big puzzle. We need to make sure we are seeing the whole picture,” Lauper wrote in an Advocate op-ed.

This raises the question: what is the bigger picture?

While there are complex and varied factors that contribute to LGBT and GNC homelessness, we can act to prevent it by supporting various programs and initiatives that work to ensure they do not end up homeless and on the streets.

One initiative that supports LGBT and GNC youth impacted by multiple intervening systems is CSSP’s get R.E.A.L initiative, which works to transform child welfare policy and practice to promote the healthy development of all children and youth. Many families that provide foster homes for LGBT and GNC youth may not provide the affirming environment needed because of their religious and cultural beliefs. Jurisdictions in our network are engaged in a variety of system transformation efforts to better support these youth and their families.

 “We are pushing the system to say that any child that comes into care needs to be recognized and engaged for who they are, and affirmed and loved and supported to become who they are authentically – and that’s not what’s happening in the system,” Bill Bettencourt, senior associate at CSSP who leads the get R.E.A.L initiative, commented in a recent interview with HuffPost Live. “That should happen for all kids. If you want to be a foster parent or an adopted parent, you should make a commitment to be able to do that.” 

Another initiative that is part of the get R.E.A.L network is Think of Us, an online web and mobile platform. Think of Us, founded by Sixto Cancel, started as a commitment to action at the Clinton Global Initiative University and now stands as a digital tool that supports youth during their transition into adulthood.

Think of Us will launch its evidence-informed coaching app called Unify later this year through the Santa Clara County Department of Children and the Washington, D.C. Department of Behavioral Health. The mobile application will provide young people with interactive videos, self-coaching activities and planning tools to help them identify and set personal goals, while also providing a framework to achieve them. 

“It’s important to us to use technology to reach today’s foster youth - after all, they are part of the Millennial generation, a demographic known for its digital nativity and embrace of innovation,” wrote Sixto Cancel, who was honored as a White House Champion of Change for Foster Care.
Think of Us and get R.E.A.L are among many initiatives that are pushing the fight to ensure that all youth – including LGBT and GNC youth – have an opportunity not to just live in a safe and loving home, but to thrive there as well.

This #40toNoneDay, let’s make our voices heard loud and clear that ending LGBT youth homelessness needs to be a priority. Let’s talk about mitigating the particular challenges that LGBT and GNC youth face – the stigma, the discrimination, the rejection, the exploitation and violence they suffer as they attempt to navigate the world in the same way that all youth do.

To learn more about our work supporting LGBT and GNC youth, visit our get R.E.A.L web page and follow the hashtag #40toNoneDay.

Viet Tran is a communications associate at CSSP. 

Announcing the Accelerating Change Award

  ·   By Tashira Halyard,

Accelerating Change Award

The Center for the Study of Social Policy seeks to honor initiatives that reach diverse populations of young women and girls of color and create opportunities for their well-being and success. These innovations disrupt the trajectory experienced by young women and girls of color from the compounding and often negative effects of gender and racial discrimination, personal and community violence and involvement in foster care, juvenile justice and other intervening public systems.

The Accelerating Change Award will celebrate the most compelling and creative interventions making a difference in young women and girls’ everyday lives. Selected recipients will join a network of like-minded partners to share ideas and help accelerate positive change and promising futures for women and girls of color nationally.

Programs, initiatives and agencies using innovative strategies to serve and advocate on behalf of girls and young women of color between ages 9-21 are encouraged to apply. Examples of eligible applicants are:

  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Grassroots and community-based initiatives
  • Public agencies and intervening systems
  • Schools and universities

Applications are due on March 11, 2016 and will be reviewed by CSSP’s Accelerating Change Award team by March 4th. After the initial review, the team will contact the finalists to arrange an interview via conference call between March 9th and March 23rd. Applicants will be notified of their selection by March 30th.

Visit http://www.cssp.org/accelerating-change-award for more information.

A Brain, a Heart and Courage Are Needed to Help All Kansas Kids Have Permanent, Loving Homes

All children in foster care need permanent, loving homes. Yet, current events in Kansas demonstrate that some of these permanent, loving homes are being discriminated against. A series of media reports  has revealed allegations of systemic discrimination by the state Department for Children and Families (DCF) against same-sex couples who want to be foster and adoptive parents.  Just this week, a legislative panel formally recommended that family structure be considered when placing a child, prompting one state senator, Laura Kelly, to blast the move, saying “This just seems like a blatant attempt to discriminate against same-sex couples.”

Gays and lesbians can serve as foster parents and adopt children in Kansas, but multiple couples have complained that the agency discriminates against those who have sought to adopt the foster children already in their care. In previous media reports, DCF officials state there is no preference of heterosexual couples as foster and adoptive parents over gays and lesbians in committed relationships. 

This isn’t much ado about nothing, especially considering that DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore told the Associated Press that “the preferred (situation) is every child to have a mom and a dad, if possible.”

In denying the allegations, DCF could have said, “We have a strong policy of non-discrimination, and we take very seriously cases where this policy is alleged to have been violated.  While we cannot comment on specific cases be assured that we support any individual and/or couple who is capable, and willing to parent a child and that we do so without discrimination.”

That’s pretty standard language.

It is clear that the cases cited and the statements made by DCF indicate a preference for heterosexual couples.

There is no research that has shown that LGBT individuals and/or couples are incapable of effective parenting.  Nor is there research that heterosexual single parents cannot effectively parent. In fact, research has shown otherwise.  There are too many children waiting to be cared for in a family setting. In Kansas, 6,762 children entered foster care last year, topping the record set the year before. Far too many languish in the system and exit it without a permanent connection to a family.

There are many healthy variations of family constellations that provide loving homes to children who then in turn become caring and productive adults. So it is disturbing that some children actually make it into loving homes and then get pulled out of these stable placements because of discrimination, not because of what is in the best interests of these children.

It is time to stop this kind of thoughtless systemic oppression that continues to negatively impact children, families and our communities. A recent guest blog by Mary Elizabeth Collins spoke to the accumulated disadvantage of youth aging out of foster care. Let us not add the accumulated disadvantage foster youth by extending their stays in foster care, unnecessarily disrupting loving placements or by putting youth in homes that are not supportive or affirming of youth who may themselves be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.  These destructive actions impact their ability to succeed in school and the ability to achieve the love of self that is critical to a successful transition to adulthood.  

There are unhealthy messages that young people receive whether in group care or in family settings when policy and practice do not explicitly call out bigotry. A system that purports to take care of children who have been abused and neglected and is mandated to help them to achieve permanence, safety and well-being cannot perpetuate bigotry, destroy loving relationships for these children and continue to oppress certain populations.

Kansas is not the only system where this kind of discrimination occurs either overtly or subtly. True effective reforms can only happen when all of our systems have the brain to know how to implement effective policy and practice, the heart to know that this should be a top priority and the courage to call it out and ensure all people are held accountable if this is not carried out as mandated. 


Bill Bettencourt is a senior associate at CSSP and leads the getR.E.A.L initiative.

Youth Thrive™ Selects Five Sites for Its New Learning Community

This month, we welcomed five youth-serving organizations to our brand-new Youth Thrive™ Learning Community. The organizations joining are:

These new members will join the New Jersey Department of Children and Families and the Brevard Family Partnership in incorporating the Youth Thrive framework  into their work to promote healthy development and well-being for youth. The selection of these new members is the result of a nationwide search that yielded numerous applicants from social services agencies and direct service nonprofits from around the country. This cohort serves a variety of system-involved youth, including those in child welfare, mental health and juvenile justice.

The Youth Thrive Framework is a research-based lens that assesses current practices that impact youth. Through research on positive youth development, resilience, neuroscience, stress and impact of trauma on brain development, the initiative’s goal is to improve the systems in a way that supports youth well-being. The vision of Youth Thrive is to cultivate youth wellness through increases in the protective and promotive factors that foster positive development.

CSSP’s Youth Thrive team also introduced a new webpage that offers resources and guidance to organizations and agencies that work with youth. It includes a searchable database of system reform action steps based on various inputs. This database provides a wealth of resources for organizations looking to get information tailored to a addressing a specific challenge.

The database is available at http://www.cssp.org/reform/child-welfare/youththrive/database. Additional information about the new learning community members, along with details about the process for building the Youth Thrive framework in any jurisdiction is at http://www.cssp.org/reform/child-welfare/youththrive/systems.

Making the Lives of LGBT Youth Visible

Jonathan Lykes"We have to highlight the importance of 'visibilizing' the stories of these young people," CSSP's Policy Analyst Jonathan Lykes recently told the Michelle Meow Show in response to reports of high numbers of youth who identify as LGBT and are involved in multiple intervening public systems, such as juvenile justice, child welfare and homelessness services. The San Francisco-based radio personality and activist interviewed Lykes for her Nov. 12, 2015, show, which covered disproportionality and disparaties faced by LGBT youth, as well as multiple intersectional issues faced by those of color. 

Here's the link to listen to a recording of the segment.

Dismantling the Pipeline: Addressing the Needs of Young Women and Girls of Color Involved in Intervening Public Systems

Young women and girls of color are disproportionately represented in intervening public systems, including the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Involvement with these systems is related to poor outcomes for all children and youth, but young women and girls of color face unique challenges. Public systems often overlook the strengths of young women and girls of color and are frequently ill-prepared to address their distinct needs. This can result in an alarming trajectory that often involves early and unplanned pregnancies, homelessness and sexual abuse and exploitation.

Public policies, however, have the opportunity to improve the ways in which we support young women involved in these systems. For public policies to best respond to the particular needs of young women and girls of color, they must be created in ways that advance prevention and address trauma. At the same time, they must provide solutions that go beyond reducing and mitigating risks to advancing opportunities to thrive.

A new policy brief from CSSP, Dismantling the Pipeline: Addressing the Needs of Young Women and Girls of Color Involved in Intervening Public Systems, aims to shine a spotlight on the disparities young women and girls of color experience when involved in intervening public systems, as well as highlight policies that have potential to positively impact young women and girls involved with, or at risk of involvement with, these systems. The brief provides a snapshot of important work taking place across the country by highlighting state and local efforts to promote better outcomes for young women and girls of color.

The strategies included in the brief highlight opportunities for public policies and programs to:

  • build a solid platform for effective interventions
  • ensure that young women and girls can stay with their families and in their communities whenever possible
  • support young women and girls in work and school
  • promote the health, positive relationships and well-being of young women and girls
  • combat the violence against and exploitation of young women and girls
  • prevent deeper system involvement

To read, download and share the report and related materials, visit http://www.cssp.org/pages/dismantling-the-pipeline.


Megan Martin is CSSP's public policy director.

CSSP Observes #PurpleThursday

  ·   By Martha Raimon, Gayle Samuels and Sarah Morrison,

CSSP staff on #PurpleThursday 2015 observing Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Today is #PurpleThursday, a moment in time when advocates and loved ones use the color purple to focus attention on Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Observed each October since 1987, this month-long campaign is all about raising awareness of the 12 million women, men and children who survive physical and emotional abuse each year. It’s also about reigniting the rallying call to advocates, service providers and policymakers to ensure that adequate systems are in place to support families and children — and communities — during crises.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, every nine seconds a woman in the United States is assaulted or beaten. About 25 percent of American men have survived some form of intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime. Some of the biggest victims are the smallest. One out of every 15 children is exposed to intimate partner violence, and as witnesses, they suffer both physical and emotional harm. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported that in 2012, there were 21 LGBTQ IPV homicides and more than 2,500 reports of IPV from LGBTQ survivors across the country. Transgender survivors were almost twice as likely to report experiencing sexual violence than others.

As child welfare professionals, attorneys, housing policy advocates and researchers, we at CSSP encounter the consequences of domestic violence in just about every aspect of our work. We know, for example, that violence between intimate partners is a leading cause of system involvement for families, especially child welfare and homelessness service providers. The needs of many of these families go unmet, putting them at risk of further exposure to violence. The National Network to End Domestic Violence reported recently that on a single September (2014) day, 67,646 individuals were supported in emergency shelters or transitional living programs offered by domestic violence service providers.  Nearly 20,000 were children. Close to 11,000 services requests went unanswered, 56 percent of which were for housing. Many individuals are not served because there are too few housing and transportation options and due to a lack of child care and legal representation.

As a consequence, we see people returning to their abusers, resorting to living in their cars or becoming homeless. Other issues, including lack of access to quality legal representation and poor coordination of services, can often mean the difference between a child staying with family and entering the foster care system, causing further trauma to families.

Our experiences suggest that we must expand how we conceive of domestic violence. For example, in CSSP’s work on the Child Welfare and Supportive Housing Resource Center (CWSHRC), we see that there are multiple levels of violence that extend beyond two intimate partners. This requires us to broaden the discussion on domestic violence to include not just the household, but also immediate family and community safety. Violence can occur among family members who are living together. It can also be perpetrated by people who sporadically come into contact with families. Violence can also occur between neighbors, and families are impacted by high levels of violence in their wider communities. All of these forms of violence are detrimental to everyone and particularly affect children witnessing or experiencing the violence.

In our efforts on the ground in communities served by the CWSHRC, we’ve learned domestic violence is far more prevalent than what is reflected in referral data. There are many factors that contribute to this, including stigma and fear. For example, in child welfare practice, particularly where the acute issue is a lack of housing, people don’t want to disclose a history of abuse.  Because child protective services may not fully understand or support the domestic violence survivor, families are fearful of losing custody of their children or not getting help, particularly when the abuser remains in the home.

All systems that interact with families that include domestic violence survivors can help by doing their part to recognize domestic violence, help families and mitigate conditions that can exacerbate the situation. Steps they can take include:

  • Providing cross-training among system providers to respond to IPV and community violence
  • Sharing information to the fullest extent legally possible and co-locating domestic violence, housing and child welfare services
  • Understanding the mandates of each system to provide a better continuum of service response
  • Ensuring safety audits are conducted in supportive housing sites
  • Educating community members on how to spot and report IPV

The following are additional domestic violence resources for individuals and service providers.

To Get Help.

 

For Advocates and Service Providers.


Martha Raimon, Gayle Samuels and Sarah Morrison are senior associates with CSSP.

Embracing the Well-Being of Transgender Foster Youth

  ·   By Shannan Wilber,

Transgender youth in foster care in California in foster care now have the right to live in settings that reflect and respect their gender identityOn October 11, California became the first state in the nation to enact legislation giving transgender children and youth in foster care the right to live in settings that reflect and respect their gender identity. Senate Bill 731 is a clear articulation of the state’s explicit commitment to treat all foster youth equally and to prohibit identity-based discrimination in foster care settings. The legislation erases any remaining confusion or uncertainty: child welfare workers who make placement decisions must treat transgender girls like all other girls, and transgender boys like all other boys -- regardless of the sex listed in their court or child welfare records.

The extreme vulnerability of transgender children and youth in foster care, and the specific harms they suffer when their caregivers ignore, denigrate or deny their gender identity is a serious public health problem. It is well documented that transgender children and youth, as a group, experience significant health disparities. Due to pervasive rejection and bias in their homes, schools and communities, they are at higher risk than their cisgender peers for depression, suicidality, substance use, physical and sexual victimization and homelessness. Family conflict, verbal harassment, school bullying and physical assault constitute the harsh daily reality of too many transgender youth. Social conditions for transgender girls and women of color are particularly brutal. Twenty-one year old Zella Ziona recently became the 18th known transgender woman of color to be murdered this year in the United States. Due to the routine erasure of transgender people and the reluctance of some families to “out” their transgender relatives, the true number of murder victims is likely even higher.

Considering their extreme social marginalization, it is not surprising that there are at least twice as many transgender youth in foster care as their estimated number in the general population. Charged with securing the safety, permanency and well-being of these youth, child welfare largely has been unequal to the task. Too often, the personnel, caregivers and providers who interact with these youth harbor the same biases and misinformation that placed the youth in jeopardy in the first place. Systems have been particularly slow in creating and sustaining affirming placements for transgender youth, and routinely place youth in unsafe and hostile settings, exacerbating their isolation and trauma.

As a consequence, many transgender youth experience foster care at its worst: a series of disrupted placements followed by periods of homelessness and a life of instability and insecurity. Too often, their only recourse is to resort to sex work or other street economies to survive. These conditions further narrow their economic and educational opportunities and consign them to lifelong social and economic marginalization.

SB 731 is both straightforward and firmly grounded in research. The serious health consequences of denying transgender youth the opportunity to live congruently with their gender identity are well documented. Conversely, affirming the gender identity of these youth and supporting them to live authentically demonstrably promotes their health and well-being. In this respect, the bill simply aligns child welfare practice with evidence-based medical and professional standards of care. However, given the reluctance of the child welfare system to embrace these simple principles, the new law will require a radical shift in child welfare practice. Rather than forcing transgender youth to choose between their safety and their gender identity, SB 731 places the onus on the agency to hold current placement providers accountable and to recruit and support more affirming placements. Although California has a long way to go, this bill is a bold and important step toward the goal at the core of CSSP’s getR.E.A.L initiative: to “recognize, engage, affirm and love” every child in foster care.


Shannan Wilber is a lawyer for children and the youth policy director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). NCLR is a co-sponsor of SB 731 and a partner with CSSP in the getR.E.A.L. initiative.

images from the 2015 Forty to None Summit

Though the oft-cited statistic that up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT drove the recent Forty to None Summit convened by the True Colors Fund—the youth, speakers and facilitators made clear that successful strategies to reduce this number would be as varied and unique as the population it represented.

I and my colleagues on the getR.E.A.L team at CSSP were in attendance at the Houston gathering last month, which brought together about 220 service providers, government officials, educators, advocates and youth. The summit also emphasized the unique needs of transgender and gender non-conforming youth, who are often overlooked in these discussions. Intersectionality was a key theme throughout the conference, and we were all challenged to consider intersectionality not only through personal identities but also via the multi-level, cross-system efforts taken to respond to this problem.

Who better to unpack this complex topic than young people themselves? The summit featured many of this year’s 40 of the Forty, awarded to LGBT young people ages 18-25 who have experienced housing instability and homelessness, as well as True Fellows, a fellowship for young people to design and implement a community project in partnership with the True Colors Fund. These young people played an integral role at the conference, not only sharing their stories but facilitating panels and providing recommendations.

This authentic interaction enabled a consistent incorporation of intersectionality, including what that means to young people, service providers, researchers, advocates, policymakers and others and how systems can recognize the importance of intersectionality to best meet the needs of the LGBT youth homeless population. Discussions on topics such as education, employment, community connections, policing and technology raised revealing points on barriers that LGBT homeless youth face. For example, how might immigration and detention policies that aim to keep families together look different for queer families? Or, how can systems provide the needed supports and services to youth who may not identify as homeless even though they fall within the legal definition? Addressing questions such as these will entail the multi-level, cross-system approach referenced throughout the convening, but answering them will require engagement with the young people who have lived these experiences.

This summit served as a model of how getR.E.A.L and CSSP can continue to integrate intersectionality and youth engagement in our work. With a few projects in the works specifically aimed at lifting up the youth voice—particularly youth of color and transgender youth—we hope to further examine the experiences of young people involved with intervening public systems and facilitate meaningful youth collaboration on these issues.


Amelia Esenstad is a program and research assistant at CSSP.

 

House and Ball community, also known as The Ballroom Scene, is a national subculture comprised of Black and Latino/a LGBTQ youth and adults. Evolving from Harlem drag balls throughout the Harlem Renaissance (1930s), ballroom  provides a platform that celebrates all forms of gender and sexual expression. Ballroom is organized into two categories: houses and balls. Houses are run by "mothers" and "fathers," who recruit and groom children to compete in balls. Balls are extravagant, competitive social events held by ballroom scene participants. During balls, houses compete for social status, trophies and cash. The ballroom scene provides many Black and Latino/a youth and adults with a chosen kinship structure through which vital resources are obtained.

At the recent the New York City House and Ball Symposium 2015, CSSP Policy Analyst Jonathan Lykes presented information on our get R.E.A.L initiative, which is working on an intersectional and systemic approach to helping build community and tackle institutional and systemic oppression that impacts Ballroom Scene youth. Through a black queer feminist lens, the getR.E.A.L initiative will seek to confront deep-end systems (criminal justice, child welfare, homeless and mental health) to better meet and respond to the needs of LGBTQ youth of color. In weeks to come, we'll share more about this new approach. Watch this space for details.

As youth around the country continue to organize and build power in what has become this generation’s civil rights movement, we must pause to examine how narrow views on gender have historically been violent to black women, as well as trans* and queer communities.

I had the pleasure of leading a workshop at the 2015 Gender Spectrum Conference that interrogated normative (and often violent) ideas around gender in movement building spaces. We discussed the history of how narrow and dichotomous views on gender impacted and ultimately hindered the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. We also detailed the work of Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), a growing movement of black youth organizers around the country using a black queer feminist lens that centers the experiences of those most marginalized. The workshop uplifted the stories of those Black cis- and trans* women whose names are often forgotten or never lifted into public discourse. We spoke the names of these women aloud and attempted to break the silence that often exists when examining the intersection between state violence and women/trans*/femme/gender-nonconforming communities. The #SayHerName practice is an example of how we can incorporate a black queer feminist lens into the field of systems and community change work. BYP100 posits:

A Black Queer Feminist Lens allows us to see and understand that our identities make us vulnerable to multiple types of oppression. Therefore, liberation for all Black people can only be realized by lifting up the voices and experiences of historically silenced and vulnerable groups within Black communities. Specifically, queer, trans* feminine, poor, differently abled and undocumented bodies are the ones most vulnerable because they are traditionally marginalized groups within already marginalized communities. It is in taking a Black Queer Feminist lens that one recognizes and humanizes Black bodies that have been made inferior.

Through a Black Queer Feminist Lens, the getR.E.A.L Initiative is able to reimagine the intersection between systemic racism and SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression). Similar to BYP100, the getR.E.A.L initiative seeks to understand the multiple modalities of oppression that impact the lives of LGBTQ youth impacted by deep-end systems—more specifically child welfare, mental health, homelessness and criminal justice systems.

The merge between systems change work happening through the getR.E.A.L initiative and community organizing through a black queer feminist lens taking place in BYP100, brings together two necessary components that will lead to lasting societal change. Through the getR.E.A.L youth engagement work at CSSP, we hope to spark a fresh praxis to lift up the voices and experiences of communities that have been perpetually silenced. It was Audre Lorde who said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

I am excited about the potential of this dynamic and vigorous movement-building work taking place across the country that is dedicated to simultaneously tackling multi-issue and multi-systemic barriers. But it is essential that in this movement organizers, policymakers, analysts and activists “get real” about being radically inclusive and intentionally intersectional. 


Jonathan Lykes is a policy analyst at CSSP.

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