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LGBTQ foster kids have a harder time finding permanent homes

According to a recent study, more than a third of kids in New York City's foster care system identify as LGBTQ. Most of those children end up in group homes and treatment centers, rather than finding permanent homes with families. Ivette Feliciano speaks with Mary Keane of You Gotta Believe, a New York City adoption center, about the challenges these young people face in the foster system.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Last week, New York City's Administration for Children's Services published a survey that found that more than a third of kids in the city's foster system identify as LGBTQ.

    The same survey found that LGBTQ foster kids are more likely to be placed in group homes than with foster families. Other studies throughout the country show that these youth are overrepresented in the foster system.

    To learn more about this issue, NewsHour Weekend correspondent Ivette Feliciano spoke with Mary Keane, a senior advisor at You Gotta Believe, a New York-based organization that specializes in placing foster kids with permanent families.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    So, Mary, starting off, you know, what was your reaction to the findings from the survey published last week by the Administration for Children's Services?

  • Mary Keane:

    So there is really nothing surprising in it. This information is known. People working in the system and who're working with these young people, they're aware of the increasing number of teenagers who are in care and in that population, we all know that there are LGBTQ kids and they have what I call a double whammy. You know, they have sort of extra struggles beyond what the average teenager has.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    In your experience, why do so many LGBTQ youth end up in foster care?

  • Mary Keane:

    Some of them have the same challenges that other kids have who wind up in foster care: family dynamics, family struggles, family trauma. And then in addition, there's family rejection, families who just don't know how to handle a kid when they come out and identify. And that's, you know, I mean, we may be in New York and we may think we're very sophisticated and stuff like that, but there's still a lot of people who have a challenge with that.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    And once they're in the foster care system, what are the unique challenges that LGBTQ youth face?

  • Mary Keane:

    So I think, again, to emphasize, all kids in care, I think, face challenges. It's not a good place to be. Teenagers face special challenges because they're just labeled. They're seen as problems. They're seen as, you know, troubled kids. People who take kids as foster parents aren't often willing to take teenagers in general.

    And then, you know, you say, well, they're LGBTQ on top of that and they really don't want to deal with it. They frequently wind up in residential treatment centers or group homes because they don't have families that are willing to take them. And the LGBTQ youth, where they're not in a specific LGBT group home, they face challenges from peers who may not be very accepting of them.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    And so what happens to these young people once they age out of the foster care system?

  • Mary Keane:

    So again, it's– it's really very similar to kids, all kids who age out without a family. They wind up overrepresented in jails. Incarceration rates are very high. Homelessness–that was in the article too–the percentage of LGBTQ kids in the homeless population, a great majority of which had been in foster care. Any youth who ages out of the system without a family is unlikely to succeed.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    How does your organization, You Gotta Believe, help LGBTQ youth and support them when they're in the foster care system?

  • Mary Keane:

    So any youth that we work with–and it's for us it's the same–we're finding them a family. Nothing else matters. If they cannot be reunified with their birth family–and that's the first attempt–then you try to find someone in their circle and they, you know, their older kids, they know a lot of people. You try to find somebody there who can be a parent for them.

    And if not, we have people who come in–I call them random families–who are interested in parenting older kids. And so we prepare them. We train them. All of our trainers, all of our program staff actually are adoptive parents and alumni of the systems. So we're– this is all very personal for us. And this applies to whether the youth are LGBTQ or straight kids or if they're not even sure where they are yet, our families are taught they have to unconditionally commit to a child that's placed with them.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    And you yourself are a foster parent.

  • Mary Keane:

    Yes.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    You know, from your own personal experience, what are the takeaways about youth in the foster care system and what they really need to thrive outside of the system?

  • Mary Keane:

    What I learned from the kids, because I didn't learn it in my training, I learned from the kids what they needed was someone to really just love them. And that's a term that's not used in the business a lot. Love is what heals trauma. Love is what heals kids. Love is what heals people. So what they needed was someone who was committed to them, who saw them for who they were, who accepted them completely.

    It didn't matter what their sexual orientation was. They've lost their family, not because of anything they've done, and they deserve to have a new family, an additional family, really, usually, because they still maintain their families, but they have a new committed family that will be there for them for a lifetime.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Mary Keane, senior consultant at You Gotta Believe, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Mary Keane:

    Thank you for having me.

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