System Failure: How We Are Failing LGBT Youth

By Rachel L. West
Advocacy Consultant

According to a report put out by the Gay & Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute there is an estimated 1.6 million homeless youth in the United States. It is believed that between 20%-40% identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT). When you take into consideration that 3%-5% of the US population identifies as LGB or T you can see that LGBT youth are experiencing homelessness at a disproportionate rate compared to their heterosexual peers.

With regards to LGBT youth in foster care; some studies have found that 34% of youth who age out of the system will experience food insecurity compared to 14% of their heterosexual peers (source).  Many of those who are in care will continue to experience the same problems in their placements that led to them leaving or being removed from their family or origin.  One study found that 42% of LGBT youth were in the system because of family rejection or conflict that resulted in removal by social services following the child’s disclosure. A report by the Center for American Progress found that many housing programs and foster families lack cultural competency with regards to LGBT issues. Many LGBT youth placed in foster care or shelters will experience discrimination by caregivers or providers.

Because of the overwhelming number of LGBT youth in need of social services you would expect social work programs to adequately train students to be affirming practitioners. However, a survey carried out by Lambda Legal and the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) show otherwise. The survey found that relatively few social work programs offer LGBT specific classes (14%). Furthermore existing courses are not doing enough to integrate material about the needs of LGBT clients. With regards to existing child welfare classes 54% reported that there was material on identity development among LGBT youth. 50% reported that courses included information on LGBT youth in out-of-home care and only 41% provided material on best practices with LGBT youth.

On Thursday June 26th at 8:00 PM (EST) ACOSA (@acosaorg) will moderate a live Twitter Chat on this topic. The chat will focus on the unique issues LGBT homeless youth face. It will provide resources and information regarding working with LGBT clients. To participate in the discussion use the hashtag #MacroSW.

Chat Questions:

Q1: Did your program provide you with adequate training for working with #LGBT Clients?

Q2: Are you aware of homeless and runaway shelters in your town/city that specifically serve #LGBT youth?

The #MacroSW Chat is a collaboration between the Association for Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA), The Network for Social Work Management (NSWM), the University of Southern California School of Social Work, the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, and Karen Zgoda, Ph.D. candidate at Boston College Graduate School of Social Work. Chats are held on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of each month at 8:00 PM eastern.

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