During the past decade, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adolescents have become increasingly visible in our families, communities, and systems of care. A significant number of these youth are in the custody of child welfare or juvenile justice agencies. Yet the public systems that are charged with their care and well-being have been unresponsive to their needs and slow to acknowledge that LGBT children and adolescents are in urgent need of appropriate and equitable care (see, for example, Mallon, 1992, 1994, 1998). Child welfare and juvenile justice systems have not incorporated advances in research and understanding related to human sexuality and child and adolescent development that have informed the development of professional standards and guidelines for the major professional associations. As a result, these systems continue to deliver misguided, uninformed, second-class care to LGBT youth in their custody.
With few exceptions, policies and professional standards governing services to youth in out-of-home care fail to consider the young people’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The lack of leadership and professional guidance related to these key developmental issues has left a vacuum that is often filled by harmful and discriminatory practices based on personal biases related to adolescent sexuality and gender identity rather than informed, evidence-based policies and guidelines. The institutional legacy of systemic failure to provide informed guidance on these issues is reflected in disturbingly common practices:
• A child welfare worker considers a young gay boy unadoptable solely because of his sexual orientation.
• Line staff in a group home fail to intervene when residents harass and abuse a transgender youth because they believe he “asked for it” by being open about his gender identity.
• Relative caregivers send a lesbian teen to a counselor for reparative therapy in a misguided attempt to try change her sexual orientation, even though the major professional associations, including the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, specifically caution against this practice.
• Detention facility staff place a gay youth in isolation “for his own protection,” depriving him of education, recreation, companionship, or other programming and services.
• Foster parents ridicule and demean a young boy in their custody whom they perceive to be effeminate, calling him a sissy and exhorting him to “stop acting like a girl.”
• Child welfare personnel repeatedly move a lesbian youth from one inappropriate placement to another, subjecting her to constant rejection and discrimination and depriving her of a permanent home or family.
• A transgender girl refuses to shower with the boys in her detention unit because she is afraid for her safety. The facility will not allow her to have private shower time, even though she has reported ongoing abuse and threats of violence from the boys, and so she does not shower.
The Model Standards: A Historical Framework ...
The Scope of the Guidelines ...
The guidelines are divided into eight topical chapters...