Opportunities to Create Affirming and Supportive Communities for LGBTQ+ Young People

All young people belong to families and communities and deserve our collective love and support. Young people want to be seen for their “whole selves”—that is, in the full beauty and complexity of who they are. They deserve to feel encouraged, affirmed, and supported as they make their way in the world. In the end, all young people deserve to be healthy, happy, and loved. Systems, policies, and communities each play an important role in affirming young people and celebrating their whole identity—including their race, ethnicity, language, culture, history, and sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).

On Monday, April 15, the Center for the Study of Social Policy joined the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) for a panel discussion on Queer and Vulnerable: Identifying the Challenges of LGBTQ+ Youth in Foster Care. Shadi Houshyar, CSSP Senior Associate, was joined by Danie Guzman, Los Angeles Ambassador for CARES to discuss opportunities to support and affirm LGBTQ+ young people in foster care. Joining them on the panel was Currey Cook, Senior Counsel and Youth In Out-Of-Home Care Project Director at Lambda Legal.

We know that children and youth do best when they are able to remain in their homes and communities. And when families do become known to the child welfare system, it is the system’s responsibility to partner with families in ways that promote autonomy and provide supports and resources that keep families together. 

For LGBTQ+ youth and their families, this requires having a system, including staff, that engage youth and families with dignity and are affirming and responsive to their needs, as well as partnerships with a broader network of community-based supports that can meet families’ needs—for example, community-based organizations like the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit, and Family Builders in California, that provide supports to young people and families. 

“At CSSP, through our getREAL (Recognize. Engage. Affirm. Love.) Initiative, we have worked with child welfare agencies to ensure that attention is paid to planning for the healthy sexual and identity development of all children and youth with a focus on LGBTQ+ youth,” said Shadi Houshyar. “Our efforts focus on ensuring that all young people are valued and affirmed to embrace their authentic selves in all aspects of their identity including SOGIE through system and policy reform. What we learned in this work is that we have to focus on affirming and celebrating the whole identity of youth. When we fail to do this, youth are undermined and unsafe in revealing their whole identity and systems who think they are ‘helping’ only further traumatize children and young people.”

For youth who enter foster care, the child welfare system has to do better. To ensure that all children and youth, including those who identify as LGBTQ+, are able thrive in foster care, child welfare systems must ensure that all foster parents are able to meet the needs of any child or youth who enters their home. The needs of children in care, like all children, are complex, not always known when they first enter care, and understandably change as they grow and develop. Children do have universal needs that systems and all foster parents must be equipped to meet, including supporting healthy identity development as they grow. 

“A well-trained and supportive foster parent serves as a cornerstone for the positive development of LGBTQ+ youth, fostering resilience, self-acceptance, and empowerment. This support not only enhances their emotional well-being but also contributes to their academic and social success, laying the groundwork for a brighter future,” said Danie Guzman. 

Policymakers also have real opportunities to promote collaboration across child welfare, health, mental health, education, housing and other systems and to improve outcomes for youth through collaborative and integrated approaches that value and affirm young people, families, and communities.

All young people who identify as LGBTQ+ deserve access to spaces—like homes, schools, workplaces, or community centers—relationships with family and friends, and systems and policies that positively affirm their identity. When young people experience accepting communities, have access to affirming spaces, and are supported, they thrive. 

Belonging and feeling valued and connected to community is important to the health and well-being of young people. It allows young people to experience a solid foundation from which to set goals, and lead fulfilling and joyful lives.


About CSSP. The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) works to achieve a racially, economically, and socially just society in which all children, youth, and families thrive. We translate ideas into action, promote public policies grounded in equity, and support strong and inclusive communities. We advocate with and for all children, youth, and families marginalized by public policies and institutional practices. Learn more at www.CSSP.org.

About CARES. In 2021, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) launched CARES: Creating Actionable and Real Solutions funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Using an actively anti-racist frame, the aim of this work is to drastically change the systemic challenges that youth—specifically older or “transition-age” youth of colorwho are or have been involved with the foster care system experience. This work is being co-designed and co-created with three cohorts of Ambassadors—youth with lived experience in the foster care system who have transitioned out of the system located in three key cities: New York, NY; Atlanta, GA; and Los Angeles, CA. Learn more about CARES here: www.CARES4Power.org.

Pathways to Independence — Supporting Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

This month, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) and Creating Real and Actionable Solutions (CARES), a CSSP initiative funded by the Conrad Hilton Foundation, submitted written testimony that addresses strategies to better support youth aging out of foster care to the Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Work and Welfare. Young people play an important role in shaping our society and contributing to their families, their communities, and the broader economy. Their ability to fulfill their hopes and aspirations will ultimately determine our collective future. As one youth who was interviewed as part of the CARES community analysis shared:

“I can be something great, no matter what my background [is], no matter what foster care was, because at the end of the day, it’s not foster care that defines me.”

Young people deserve opportunities that promote their health and well-being, maximize their power and promise, and support their ability to achieve their goals and dreams. Investments in community-based supports are indispensable to fulfilling this vision. Upstream investments in programs like Title IV-B of the Social Security Act (Title IV-B) provide systems and communities the opportunity and ability to be more responsive to and supportive of youth and their expressed needs while also preventing costly and harmful deeper-end system involvement.

Read the full post on Medium.