The state of Illinois is trying to make sure there are more foster parents available to take in homeless LGBTQ youth.
There are approximately 25,000 homeless youth in Illinois, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) and the Illinois Department of Human Services. More than a third of them are on the street because they identify as LGBTQ.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is hosting a “How to Adopt from Foster Care” seminar to call attention to the need for foster homes for these youths.
The event, which will be held Saturday July 9 at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, is open to anyone — whether single, divorced, married or in a civil union — who wants to learn more about fostering LGBTQ youth.
“Our teenagers, in particular, are quite hard to place simply because of the age and the developmental stage,” said Jane Kelly, Illinois DCFS statewide LGTBQ coordinator. “When you add the additional [factor] of being LGBTQ, it becomes even harder.”
The seminar will include an overview of the foster care licensing process, information about mentoring, and both foster parent and teen speakers.
Kelly said the organizations hope to reach anyone willing to foster children, but wants to connect with LGBTQ and allied households in particular, as the numbers of LGBTQ children in state care has grown in recent years.
Children and teens are coming out at a younger age, Kelly said, in part due to earlier exposure to issues around sexuality, orientation and gender identity in culture. She said kids in state care are more than twice as likely to identify as LGBTQ, as many are kicked out of their homes after coming out.
“While it’s sad and simply not right, we as a community need to step forward and help foster, adopt, or mentor our youth,” Kelly said. “When youth are provided with a supportive and loving home, this is a huge mitigating factor of preventing homelessness and other adverse circumstances for our youth.”
Kelly said she sees a growing awareness of these circumstances among individuals who express interest in fostering children and teens. But many are hesitant and have questions about how to care for and interact with LGBTQ youth leaving DCFS’ care, particularly when it comes to fostering transgender kids.
“Despite the many strides that have gone on with the LGBTQ community, many of these kids have faced discrimination and stigma,” Kelly said. “What we’re finding is a lot of people just need good information. So it’s providing training and education as well, that we’ve coupled with the recruitment of foster homes for this population.”
DCFS plans to expand its programming targeted toward finding foster homes for LGBTQ youth throughout 2016, including a campaign in which LGBTQ youth share their experiences and what kind of interventions have helped them directly with potential foster parents.
Max Green reports for the WBEZ news desk. Follow him @maxraphaelgreen