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Pittsburgh officials discuss, celebrate new federal rule that protects LGBTQ+ foster kids

Federal and local government officials meet in Pittsburgh to discuss new foster care rule that strengthens protections for LGBTQ+ foster care children.
U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
Federal, local government officials and community members meet in Pittsburgh to discuss new foster care rule that strengthens protections for LGBTQ+ foster care children.

Members from the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation and government officials from Allegheny County and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services met Tuesday to discuss a new federal foster care rule intended to ensure safe and proper placement and care for LGBTQ+ foster children.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Administration for Children and Families Jeff Hild said the rule was partially informed by successful practices implemented by Pittsburgh agencies like the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation.

“We're here in part because Allegheny County has been kind of the model,” Hild said. “We're looking all across the country for models and what's replicable. So certainly, what has happened here on the ground has directly informed this rule.”

The new rule goes into effect July 1. It includes standards for “safe and appropriate” placements, which applies to all children in foster care; and Designated Placements, which are providers who meet specific criteria to provide protections for LGBTQ+ youth.

To be considered a Designated Placement for LGBTQ+ children, the federal guidelines stipulate that placement must satisfy three conditions:

  • The provider must commit to establishing an environment that supports the child’s LGBTQI+ status or identity; and
  • The provider must be trained with the appropriate knowledge and skills to provide for the needs of the child related to the child's self-identified sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression; and
  • The provider must facilitate the child's access to age- or developmentally appropriate resources, services, and activities that support their health and well-being.
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Queer children are overrepresented in the foster care system — over 30% of foster children identify as LGBTQ+ — and studies suggest this is due in part to higher rates of parental abuse and a higher likelihood to either run away or be kicked out of the home.

Hild related lessons learned from his time working with homeless youth.

“Overwhelmingly, the story I hear is, ‘I was kicked out of my home when I came out. I was 14,’” he explained. “Or, ‘I went into foster care and came out to my foster parents, and they kicked me out, and I didn't want to go back into the foster care system.’”

Hild said the goal of the new rule is ultimately to minimize the amount of young people in crisis.

“I'll know this is successful when we don't have those conversations anymore, when young people aren’t becoming homeless simply because of who they are,” he added.

Tuesday’s event featured speeches from members of involved organizations along with a roundtable discussion facilitated by Hugh Lane Director of Training and Research Jule Arney.

The group discussed the benefits of queer-affirming programs in child welfare services, the aid of their public and private partnerships in bringing these initiatives to life and examples of the impact of foster parents who provide the right support for LGBTQ+ youth here in Pittsburgh.

One celebrated example was speaker Haneef Capers, who was placed into the foster care system in seventh grade after repeated abuse from their caregiver. With support from their foster parents and the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation, Capers graduated high school last month with a GPA of 4.35 and experience in five varsity sports. They were accepted into 13 universities.

Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families Rebecca Jones Gaston said she wants to ensure foster children’s needs are met to avoid negative outcomes that a lot of queer foster youth commonly experience.

“There's so much research saying that, when you can't be your full self, that actually can cause harm and make growing into a thriving adult really challenging,” she said. “[I want] to see…the support for these young people and families just be the norm, where we almost forget that it’s a special requirement.”

Hild also took time to applaud the Biden-Harris administration for its role in implementing the new rule. President Joe Biden issued an executive order directing agencies to do more to protect LGBTQ+ youth and Hild recalled how the president spoke last pride month, supporting the rule and Designated Placements for queer foster youth.

Jones Gaston also highlighted the importance of the community in being able to make Biden’s order for more protections a reality.

“In addition to being led by President Biden and the executive order, [our] absolute priority was that this is led and driven and informed by those who come from the LGBTQ+ community and their caretakers, the agencies that are doing this work and the example that Hugh Lane has,” she said. “It is a direct result of the conversations that we had and the courage that people had to share their stories with us.”

Thomas is a rising senior at the University of Pittsburgh pursuing a double major in Politics and Philosophy and English Writing. They are currently the opinions editor at The Pitt News, the content manager for Policy and Political Review and a head writer for Pitt's best and only late night talk show, Pitt Tonight.