Foster Care LGBTQ

Motion Calls for Investigation, Plus Boosted Support Systems After LGBTQ+ Foster Youth’s Suicide

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to consider a motion that would take the next step in a series of reforms meant to protect and lift up LGBTQ+ kids and young adults in the child welfare system. Tuesday’s motion, in response to the suicide of a teenager in foster care earlier this month, intends to further establish and strengthen the “system of support” available to LGBTQ+ kids in the county’s care.

The motion directs County Counsel to oversee the Office of Child Protection’s investigation into the death of a 19-year-old, identified as Andrew M., on September 4, 2019. Motion author Supervisor Hilda Solis wants to know whether systemic shortcomings let Andrew M. down. The motion directs County Counsel to report back to the board with answers and recommendations for improving services for LGBTQ+ youth in foster care.

“Andrew M.’s death must be met with urgency to provide youth, including transition age youth in foster care, identified as LGBTQ+ with support and resources” that help them thrive, the motion states.

The need to prevent suicides among LGBTQ+ teens and young adults could hardly be more urgent.

Lesbian, gay, and bi students grades between 9-12 are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide, and three times as likely to seriously contemplate suicide, as their non-LGB peers, according to a 2015 Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. While 14.8 percent of heterosexual students reported suicidal ideation, 42.8 percent of LGB kids said they had seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months. The CDC report also found that the suicide attempts among LGB kids were far more likely to have required medical treatment than heterosexual students.

In a separate survey, the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 40 percent of transgender adults reported having attempted suicide. And of those who reported suicide attempts, 92 percent said they were under age 25 when they tried to kill themselves.

And LGBTQ+ youth are severely overrepresented in the foster care system, and there are certainly more kids who are not included in the statistics because they have not self-reported their LGBTQ+ status.

A February 2019 study published in Pediatrics found that 30 percent of a sample of approximately 600,000 California students between the grades of 6 and 12 who identified as LGBTQ lived in foster care. More than 25 percent of the teens who reported housing instability — either living in a motel, shelter, or in other temporary housing — identified as LGBTQ.

The survey also found that LGBTQ kids in foster care are at higher risk of being bullied, substance abuse, and having mental health problems.

“There has been a lot of concern that the child welfare system is overburdened in the first place, and that issues like LGBTQ youth discrimination and their distinct needs are an additional complexity for youth who are already vulnerable, just by definition of being in the child welfare system,” says one of the study’s authors, Stephen T. Russell, chair of the human development and family sciences department at the University of Texas at Austin.

LGBTQ+ kids in foster care and those who are homeless have often faced rejection from their families.

Tuesday’s motion calls for the LA County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to work with the county CEO’s Office, the Office of Child Protection, the Department of Mental Health, and Probation, as well as with LGBTQ+ community experts, to develop and launch services that can intervene and reduce the number of family rejections, as well as new training for foster caregivers and providers, and social workers and probation staff, focused on better supporting LGBTQ+ youth, through identity development, and knowledge of resources available in the community.

Last week, on September 10, the LA County Board of Supervisors also committed to collecting better data on LGBTQ+ suicides, hate crimes, and murders.

The LA County Coroner’s Office and its medical examiners will soon start collecting LGBTQ+-related data in the course of their investigations of violent deaths, thanks to a motion authored by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Kathryn Barger. The move will reportedly make LA County the first government body in the nation to require this crucial category of data collection. The hope is that with more complete statistics about how many of LA’s LGBTQ+ residents are murdered, commit suicide, or are the victims of violent crimes, county officials will be able to develop better policies to prevent future deaths, like Andrew’s.

“The death of Andrew M. must propel systemwide changes with more immediacy,” the motion says, so that other kids like Andrew are met with “support and resources to live proud, productive, happy lives.”

Image by Andrik Langfield, Unsplash.

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