Introduced in both houses of Congress on May 19, 2015, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (S.1382 and H.R.2449) would prohibit discrimination in federally-funded adoption or foster care placements based on the sexual orientation or gender identity of youth and prospective parents. Increasing the pool of potential foster or adoptive parents while encouraging equitable practices in the field, proponents hope the bill will better meet the needs of nearly 400,000 children in foster care across the US.
It is estimated that LGBTQ youth account for between 4% and 10% of the national foster youth population, and as many as 70% of the LGBTQ youth in group homes reported that they have suffered violence based on their LGBT status. Furthermore, 100% of the LGBTQ youth in foster group homes reported verbal harassment based on their sexual orientations or gender identities, and 78% were removed or ran away from their placement as a result. Between 25% and 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ community members, and over half of homeless youth have spent some time in foster care.
Twenty states currently have explicit laws protecting the rights of youth in foster care from discrimination based on sexual orientation, thirteen of which also protect against discrimination based on gender identity. However, religious or moral exemption laws have been proposed in several states this year, which would allow placements of youth to be guided by the religious beliefs of agencies and staff. In combination with the lack of nationally-explicit anti-discriminatory laws, these policies are limiting placement options for youth in care.
Bills like The Every Child Deserves a Family Act offer a supportive message to youth within the child welfare system on a national scale and serve as an important first step in the wide-ranging goal of achieving “normalcy” for LGBTQ youth in foster care. In California, for example, LGBTQ youth in foster care experience 18% more placements and are more likely to live in a group home setting than non-LGBTQ youth in foster care. By impacting the federal funding requirements for agencies across the nation, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act could help ensure these children – and those seeking to adopt or foster them – are given the same opportunities as their non-LGBTQ peers.