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In the Department of Children and Families’ 2017 Annual Progress and Services Report, DCF identified LGBTQ youth in Massachusetts as the population at greatest risk of maltreatment. LGBTQ youth are about 7 percent of the youth population in the United States, but they are estimated to comprise 25 percent of young people in the foster care system.
And yet DCF has no agencywide policy on LGBTQ youth.
Last week we saw the release of an alarming audit of DCF practices for 2014-2015, detailing its failure to report injuries and abuse of children in the agency’s custody. I’d like to call attention to the particular harm that comes to LGBTQ youth in DCF care: gay youth being harassed by staff and assaulted by other residents in residential care; transgender pre-adoptive parents being discriminated against in their home study processes; and time and again, transgender youth who are not getting medically necessary care.
In Massachusetts, we are blessed with some of the leading medical providers serving transgender youth. When doctors prescribe medically necessary treatment for their transgender patients in DCF custody, DCF doesn’t trust them. DCF treats these medical requests as extraordinary, and it puts up barriers to accessing care, leading to lengthy delays in treatment for these youth. Well-meaning people in the system trying to help youth – social workers, foster parents, lawyers, advocates – have no guideposts, no consistent policy.
• DCF must create and implement an agencywide policy on LGBTQ youth.
• DCF must create and implement comprehensive, required, annualized training for its workers or contract providers on LGBTQ cultural competency and serving the needs of LGBTQ youth in care.
• DCF must ensure that its training for foster parents and pre-adoptive parents is consistently updated and given statewide.
Substantial progress has been made in Massachusetts:
• Our statutes protect LGBTQ youth in school, employment, housing and public accommodations like DCF.
• There is a network of committed LGBTQ liaisons in DCF area offices who are knowledgeable about and affirming of LGBTQ youth and able to provide support and technical assistance to youth, families and DCF front-line staff.
• The Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth is tasked with raising
awareness and improving state government to ensure that LGBTQ youth are
being well served.
But this is not enough. Leadership from DCF is critical, and that leadership, commitment, consistency and accountability is communicated through policy. There is a model for this positive change right here in Massachusetts.
In 2014, the Department of Youth Services (DYS) created an LGBTQ policy and practice guide that became a national model. DYS committed to training every staff person on the policy. This is how culture changes.
By Patience Crozier
13 December 2017