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Illinois foster parents, staff trained to support LGBTQI+ youth in care

Pride events in Rockford drew hundreds downtown to celebrate during opening weekend.
Pride events in Rockford drew hundreds downtown to celebrate during opening weekend.(WIFR)
Published: Jun. 14, 2022 at 1:07 PM CDT
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CHICAGO, Ill. (WIFR) - More than 30% of youth in care nationwide identify as LGBTQI+(lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and intersex). Many come into care needing safe, loving and caring homes that see and validate the challenges they face.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) anticipates that need by training foster care parents and staff members so they can ensure LGBTQI+ youth in care are protected and supported.

“Our mission is to provide a safe and loving home for every youth in our care, including those who are LGBTQI+,” said DCFS Director Marc D. Smith. “We’re doing that by providing ongoing training to our staff; expanding our network of service providers, health care professionals and private agency partners; and making sure foster families have the tools they need to provide affirming and informed care to the youth that need them most.”

Studies show that minors who don’t identify as cis-gender are more at risk of becoming homeless than their peers. Welcoming, affirming and supportive families to care and advocate for them can lessen this statistic.

Last fall the department launched enhanced mandatory LGBTQI+ training for staff and private agency partners, and all foster caregivers must now complete mandatory LGBTQI+ Children and Youth in Care Training as a condition of licensure and license renewal. “It’s all about support systems and boundaries,” said a representative from the Department of Child and Family services.

In addition to the circumstances that brought them into foster care, LGBTQI+ youth face added challenges of homophobia, transphobia and the constant need to assess their communities, schools, social networks and foster families for safety and the ability to be honest and open about their identity.

Training courses for staff and caregivers promote safety, well-being of LGBTQI+ youth in care and outline ethical responsibilities when working with LGBTQI+ youth in care. The emphasis is on supporting the development of sexual orientation and gender identity.

By analyzing why queer identifying youth are currently overrepresented in child welfare, the department hopes to identify effective strategies that meet their needs through affirming practices.

The department is also finalizing contracts with Lawrence Hall, Lakeside and Bridge 2 Pathways to match LGBTQI+ youth in care living in Cook, Will and Kankakee counties with safe, LGBTQI+ specific housing.

Feedback on service delivery, programs and policies is gathered by members on the Statewide Youth Advisory Board (YAB), a channel for current and former youth in care aged 14 through 21 to share their perspective and experience with DCFS leadership at monthly meetings held across the state.

As an extension of the YAB, last October the department launched the LGBTQI+ Affinity Group (YAAG) for youth in care to identify the greatest issues and challenges they face related to racial and gender bias, disparity and equity; propose recommendations for system improvements that promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

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