Protecting the Rights and Providing Appropriate Services to LGBTQIA2S+ Youth in Out-of-Home Care - Illinois

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Rights of LGBTQIA2S+ Youth in Foster Care

Citation: Comp. Stat. Ch. 20, § 521/5; DCFS Proc. Man. § 302, Appendix K

Every child in the care of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) who is placed in foster care shall have the right to fair and equal access to all available services, placement, care, treatment, and benefits and to not be subjected to discrimination or harassment on the basis of actual or perceived race, ethnic group identification, ancestry, national origin, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, mental or physical disability, or HIV status.

In policy: Children and youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning are protected by the Illinois human rights laws. Children and youth have many legal rights while in care, including the right to be free from verbal, emotional, and physical harassment in their placements, schools, and communities. The adults involved in their care have a legal and ethical obligation to ensure that they are safe and protected. These children and youth also have the right to be treated equally, to express their gender identity, and to have the choice to be open or private about their sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity.

The policy of DCFS is to maintain and promote a safe and affirming environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning/queer (LGBTQ) children and youth in DCFS care, including youth who are in DCFS-contracted residential facilities and programs, foster care, and any other substitute care settings. Like all other children, LGBTQ youth are to be placed in the least restrictive setting appropriate for their needs, and LGBTQ status is not an indicator, much less a justification, to place a child in a more restrictive setting. All staff are prohibited from engaging in any form of discrimination, bias, or harassment against LGBTQ children, youth, and their families. Staff may not impose personal, organizational, or religious beliefs on LGBTQ children, youth, and families, and in no way should personal beliefs impact the way individual needs of youth or families are met.

Supports for LGBTQIA2S+ Youth in Care

Citation: Comp. Stat. Ch. 405 §§ 48/15; 48/20; DCFS Proc. Man. § 302, Appendix K

Under no circumstances shall a mental health provider engage in sexual orientation change efforts with a person under age 18.

'Mental health provider' includes a clinical psychologist, school psychologist, psychiatrist, clinical social worker or social worker, a marriage and family therapist, or professional counselor or clinical professional counselor. 'Sexual orientation change efforts' or 'conversion therapy' means any practices or treatments that seek to change an individual's sexual orientation, including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings towards individuals of the same sex.

In policy: LGBTQ-appropriate and culturally competent medical care and sexual health education and resources shall be provided to all DCFS youth. All DCFS youth receive a comprehensive health assessment at case opening which includes identification of existing medications being taken by youth.

As with any child or youth, LGBTQ children and youth experiencing emotional and/or behavioral problems may require specific services, such as short-term outpatient counseling or psychotherapy. For example, when a child or youth is having a severe emotional reaction to their sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender identity (e.g., persistent depression or anxiety, engaging in substance use or dangerous, high-risk behaviors, social withdrawal, rejection of child/youth, placement disruption), more intensive services may be required. These services might include, but are not limited to, individual, group, or family therapy.

DCFS must not contract or seek treatment services for the purpose of changing a youth's sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Such treatment would be ineffective and extremely damaging to the youth's sense of self and well-being. Reparative or conversion therapy is illegal.

Placement Considerations

Citation: DCFS Proc. Man. § 302, Appendix K

No matter the type of placement, placing youth consistent with their gender identity, rather than their sex assigned at birth, is generally the best way to protect them. Accordingly, placement consistent with gender identity should be the presumptive placement. Moreover, a youth's perception of where they should be placed and would feel safest should be the primary factor informing housing decisions, and placements should never be made before discussing the issue with the youth.

When a transgender or gender-expansive youth is residing in a foster home, the agency is expected to make sleeping-arrangement decisions on an individualized basis while following the general guidance previously detailed. Decisions on bedrooms for transgender or gender-expansive youth in foster homes should be based on the youth's individualized needs and should prioritize the youth's emotional and physical safety. The agency should consider the youth's perception of where they will be most secure as well as any recommendations from the youth's health-care provider. The youth's well-being as well as that of any other children in the foster home should be taken into consideration when making this decision. It is important to consider the LGBTQ youth and other children in the home in the decision-making process.

A youth's LGBTQ status is not a reason to place them in congregate care. For situations where a transgender or gender-expansive youth is in congregate care for reasons other than because they are LGBTQ, every effort should be made so that transgender or gender-expansive youth are housed in a facility that can provide staff that are competent in transgender or gender-expansive issues, individual sleeping quarters (one person bedroom), and a private bathroom and shower to allow for safety and privacy. Where shared sleeping accommodations are required, extensive consideration must be given to ensuring that assigned roommates are not a risk to the transgender or gender-expansive youth's emotional and psychological well-being or physical safety.

Transgender or gender-expansive youth should not automatically be housed according to their sex assigned at birth. As in a foster care setting, the agency should make housing and sleeping quarters decisions based on the youth's individualized needs and should prioritize the youth's emotional and physical safety. Agency staff should consider the youth's perception of where they will be most secure as well as any recommendations from the youth's health-care providers and remember to include the youth in the decision-making process to avoid alienating them.

Caregiver Qualifications

Citation: Comp. Stat. Ch. 20, § 521/5; DCFS Proc. Man. § 302, Appendix K

Every child in the care of DCFS who is placed in foster care shall have the following rights:

  • To have caregivers and child welfare personnel who have received sensitivity training and instruction on matters concerning race, ethnicity, national origin, color, ancestry, religion, mental and physical disability, and HIV status
  • To have caregivers and child welfare personnel who have received instruction on cultural competency and sensitivity relating to, and best practices for, providing adequate care to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in out-of-home care

In policy: Placement decisions, such as the decision to place a child with kin or fictive kin, must be guided by the caregiver's capacity to meet the unique and diverse needs of the individual. If a child or youth is known to be LGBTQ, the caseworker is responsible for determining, prior to placement, the caregiver's attitudes and beliefs regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. In no instance should LGBTQ youth be placed with a nonaffirming caregiver who is opposed to sexual orientations that differ from the caregiver's own. Nor should LGBTQ children and youth be placed with caregivers who are unwilling or unable to support children and youth whose gender identity or gender expression differs from traditional expectations.

The child or youth's worker, family, foster family members, placement caregivers, and peers may themselves need assistance in supporting the LGBTQ youth. The LGBTQ coordinator can provide education and identify resources that will assist the caregiver and support the child or youth in placement. Participation in education and support groups, such as PFLAG, for parents, families, friends, and allies united with people who are LGBTQ shall be encouraged.

Definitions

Citation: DCFS Proc. Man. § 302, Appendix K

The terms used in this policy are defined as follows:

  • 'Asexuality' is the lack of sexual attraction to anyone or low or absent interest in or desire for sexual activity.
  • 'Bisexual' refers to a person who is emotionally, romantically, and sexually attracted to both men and women.
  • 'Cisgender' is a term used to describe people whose gender identity is congruent with the sex they are assigned at birth.
  • 'Coming-out' refers to the gradual process of becoming aware of one's sexual orientation and gender identity and includes a personal sense of when to safely disclose this information to others.
  • 'Gay' refers to a person, typically a man, whose emotional, romantic, and sexual attractions are primarily for individuals of the same sex. In some contexts, the term is used as a general term for gay men and lesbians.
  • 'Gender dysphoria' describes the distress (and not disagreement) between birth-assigned gender and gender identity. Gender dysphoria may be diagnosed when a transgender or gender-expansive person is seeking medical interventions such as hormones and/or surgery. Not all transgender people experience gender dysphoria.
  • 'Gender expansive' is having or being perceived to have gender expression and/or behaviors that do not conform to traditional or societal expectations. Gender-expansive individuals may or may not identify as LGBTQ.
  • 'Gender expression' is a person's way of communicating gender identity to others through behavior, dress, and physical characteristics.
  • 'Gender identity' is one's innermost concept of self as male or female or both or neither, how individuals perceive themselves, and what they call themselves. One's gender identity can be the same or different than the sex assigned at birth. Gender identity is distinct from sexual orientation.
  • 'Intersex' is a general term used to describe a person born with sex characteristics (including genitals, hormones, and chromosomes) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.
  • 'Lesbian' refers to a woman whose emotional, romantic, and sexual attractions are primarily for other women. Some women prefer to call themselves gay.
  • 'LGBTQ' is a common acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning/queer persons who, despite their differences, are often discriminated against in similar ways.
  • 'Queer' is historically a derogatory slang term used to identify LGBTQ people but is now a term that has been embraced and reclaimed by some in the LGBTQ community and academia as a symbol of pride that represents individuals who may fall out of 'norms' for gender and sexuality.
  • 'Sex assigned at birth' refers to birth-assigned male or female sex, typically based on reproductive anatomy.
  • 'Sexual orientation' refers to one's enduring emotional, romantic, and/or sexual feelings for another person. Sexual behavior does not necessarily determine sexual orientation.
  • 'Transgender' is a broad term describing the state of a person's gender identity or expression when their identity or presentation does not necessarily match those characteristics associated with sex assigned at birth.