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Gender issues hurt kids in foster care

April 2010 | by Sara Giboney, kearneyhub.com


Adam McCormick, an associate professor of social work at St. Ambrose University, is featured in this article by kearneyhub.com.

“It wasn’t just the other kids in my group home who were calling me ‘faggot.’ It was the staff, too. I had nowhere to turn for help,” said one child in foster care.

A caseworker deems a child unadoptable because of his sexual orientation. Foster parents allow a child to be bullied because he is gay. A lesbian teen in foster care is sent to therapy to “fix” her sexual orientation. A male teen in foster care is forced to participate in masculine activities such as football because he acts femininely.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender — or GLBT, for short — teens are often bullied, taunted, isolated and degraded when living in foster care, according to Adam McCormick, an associate professor of social work at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa.

“There really does seem to be, in the foster care system, this denial of existence of GLBT youth in our care or those of us who do acknowledge their existence, a desire for them to remain silent and invisible,” he said.

McCormick spoke at the University of Nebraska at Kearney Child Welfare Conference Friday. The theme was “Culturally Sensitive Child Welfare Practice: Putting Children and Families First.”

McCormick presented “Maltreatment Experiences of GLBT Youth.”

McCormick said 5 percent to 12 percent of youths in foster care identify themselves as GLBT and 20 percent to 40 percent of homeless and runaway youth who us services identify themselves as GLBT.

He added that resources on GLBT youths in foster care are limited.

“It really does seem to be overlooked and under-investigated,” he said.

The number of youths who identify themselves has GLBT is probably greater because many youth don’t feel safe coming out to their foster parents.

Many GLBT youths who are not supported run away or are kicked out of their foster home, McCormick said. One in three gay and lesbian youths reported being physically abused shortly after coming out to their caretakers.

“GLBT youth, in general, are at an increased likelihood of experiencing some form of abuse whether it be physical abuse, sexual abuse or psychological abuse,” McCormick said.

McCormick said there is an increase in risk behaviors among GLBT youths in foster care. Risk behaviors include truancy, substance abuse, behavioral issues and engaging in criminal activity.

Those issues aren’t initially thought to be related to sexual orientation. “But when we dig a little deeper we realize that in many cases it has everything to do with their sexual orientation,” McCormick said.

GLBT youths often bounce from foster home to foster home.

Seventy-eight percent of gay and lesbian youths in care report that they were removed from or ran away from their most recent placement because of issues related to sexual orientation.

“In many cases, their experiences don’t get much better. In many cases, they get much worse,” McCormick said.

When youths are punished for coming out, he said, they often experience significant psychological damage.

“Essentially, what we’re doing is punishing them when they’re really the only ones who have done nothing wrong,” McCormick said.

McCormick said agencies should adopt written, nondiscrimination policies; provide training to youths, staff and caregivers about GLBT issues; address negative attitudes about people who are GLBT; reach out to the GLBT community to recruit agency staff, volunteers and mentors; include GLBT books and magazines in agency resource libraries; use respectful terminology that does not make assumptions about individual’s sexual identity; and work closely with GLBT youths to address their needs.

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