Sense of Stability: Specialized Group Homes and Their Benefits

In this final post, I’m going to begin by stealing a phrase from a former Australian politician and say that this is the post that brings home the bacon; this is the one that pulls the whole game together. In my second post, I talked at length about the particularly bad outcomes in foster care for TGNB youth. In the third post, I described the shortcomings of existing group homes and how legislative reforms may stymie efforts to create a congregate care facility designed specifically to meet the needs of TGNB youth.  In this final post, I will lay out in detail the logistical challenges of—and practical solutions to—the emotional and housing needs of TGNB youth, how specialized group homes are uniquely capable of meeting those needs. Continue reading “Sense of Stability: Specialized Group Homes and Their Benefits”

Sense of Belonging: Kinship, Companionship, Community, and Gender Identity in Foster Care

NOTE – It is necessary, now, to make a correction of an error in this post, and to better fit these posts up with a bit more vocabulary to enhance understanding of gender issues in foster care generally. Repeatedly throughout this post, I used the term transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) to refer to children and adults who are not cisgender. Cisgender [PDF pg. 1], according to the American Psychological Associations’ “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People” is an “adjective used to describe a person whose gender identity and gender expression align with sex assigned at birth; a person who is not TGNC.” The issue with the TGNC terminology is that it is, in and of itself, exclusionary. A better terminology would be trans and gender non-binary (TGNB) because it fundamentally recognizes that gender is a spectrum, rather than a binary state.

As stated in my last post, transgender and gender non-conforming youth face unique and grave challenges in the foster care system. At its core, the fundamental risk faced by trans and gender non-binary (TGNB) youth is that they will suffer mistreatment, due to prejudice or indifference, in the care of non-specialized group homes—group homes that, as a result of the federal and state reforms seeking to move away from such institutions, will lack specially trained staff and targeted programming. This change means that TGNB youth will either be in group homes that don’t address their needs or be isolated in resource homes that also lack specialized training and programming.

Continue reading “Sense of Belonging: Kinship, Companionship, Community, and Gender Identity in Foster Care”

Sense of Community: Basic Challenges Facing Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Youth in Foster Care

Dr. Ryan T. Anderson of The Heritage Foundation has made a career of late arguing that transgender people are merely making a choice regarding their identity and not affirming openly a fact that their gender identity fundamentally differs from their sex at birth. People like Dr. Anderson, PhD,  know, or believe they know, or think they know, what it means to be  transgender/gender nonconforming (TGNC). They believe it to be fundamentally an act of choice: to reject one sex and elect to be part of another.  They are partially correct; in some manner, there is a choice. But the choice isn’t between genders, or sexes, or sexuality, but rather a choice of whether to live life as one’s authentic self or to keep hidden from the world a basic internal truth of who one is as an individual.

Gender Identity [PDF Pg. 4], as defined by the American Psychological Association, is “[a] person’s deeply-felt-, inherent sense of being a boy, a man, or male; a girl, a woman, or female; or an alternative gender (e.g., genderqueer, gender nonconforming, gender neutral) that may or may not correspond to a person’s sex assigned at birth or to a persons’ primary or secondary sex characteristics. Since gender identity is internal, a person’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.” The same APA definition goes on to state that one’s “affirmed gender identity [. . . ] refers to a person’s gender identity after coming out as TGNC or undergoing social and//or medical transition process.”

In this post, I will discuss the issue of visibility and community for TGNC youth, I will talk about how TGNC foster youth have exceptionally bad outcomes even when compared to non-TGNC youth in foster care, and finally, I will briefly touch on the existing Foster Youth Bill of Rights in the California Welfare and Institutions Code. Continue reading “Sense of Community: Basic Challenges Facing Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Youth in Foster Care”

Safety for the Self: Transgender Youth, Foster Care, and Safety

My name is Michael Holcomb, and I am currently a third-year student at Santa Clara University School of Law. My ambition is to spend my life working to achieve what Robert Kennedy urged this country to strive for in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.: “to take the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.” I also happen to be a gay man. This has colored my life experiences. It has made me keenly aware of the things that we, as a society, do to one another whether or not it is our exact intention. The underlying purpose of the foster care system is to ensure that children live in safe settings where they receive adequate care. But as with many programs of government, it is ill-equipped to deal with the different nature of issues confronting LGBTQ youth, and in particular young transgendered people.

One study (paywall) published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at an analytic sample of some 591,241 students between the ages of 10 and 18 across some 1,200 schools. What the study found was of the fewer than 1% of respondents in foster care, some 30.4% of those youth self-identified as LGBTQ. A second study (PDF pg. 20) from the Wagner School at NYU found that all foster youth surveyed living in group homes run by the New York City Administration for Children’s Services reported being verbally harassed, while 70% reported being victims of physical abuse as a result of their sexual identity. So why pay special attention to transgender youth in foster care? Simply because the nature of foster care itself, whether these dependent youths are placed into a single-family resource home or a group setting, their status as transgender is most likely to be discovered in the places they cannot avoid: bedrooms and bathrooms. While someone who identifies as LGB may pass as straight and avoid these dangers, someone who is transgender may not be able to long conceal their status. Nor should they have to. Transgender persons, be they adult or child, are a vulnerable population. Absent special recognition, protection, and active measures; transgender youth placed into foster care settings will be, and are, at regular risk of severe damage to their mental and physical health.

As a consequence of these shattering statistics, I intend to focus my research of the dangers facing transgender youth in the foster care system on three areas. First, what protections in law currently exist at the state level for transgender youth in foster care and how effective are they at providing “adequate” care for this minority group? Second, which states currently lack protection for transgender youth and what can the federal government do to (make them) ameliorate this lack of protection? Finally, what specific challenges do transgender foster youth face regarding housing, mental, and physical health?  What programs exist or need to exist to ensure that this vulnerable population gains the protection it so desperately needs?