Protections restored for Florida LGBTQ foster youth
The Florida Department of Children and Families restored protections for LGBTQ youth in group home care. Equality Florida and child welfare experts met with DCF Secretary Mike Carroll immediately after language that would have protected LGBTQ youth was removed from proposed changes to the rules governing group homes. Child welfare agencies had advocated for the new language to address the unique challenges LGBTQ foster youth face, and the removal of this language prompted a three hour public hearing in which every single person who testified unanimously expressed strong support for reinstating protections for LGBTQ youth.
Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida, issued the following statement praising DCF Secretary Mike Carroll for putting the best interest of children first.
“We are grateful to Secretary Carroll for his commitment to ensuring LGBTQ youth are properly protected. These rule changes are common sense; they reflect tested, best practices and confront the reality that LGBTQ youth disproportionately face discrimination, bullying and psychological abuse. It is impossible to ignore the painful existence of homophobia and bigotry in our state, and we thank the Department of Children and Families for taking this important step towards protecting all youth in their care. We join other child welfare advocates in praising the specific ban on forcing young people into debunked and harmful “conversion therapy” programs.
We appreciate this significant step towards improving the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system, but group home care is only one part of the system We are pleased that DCF has also announced its plan to develop long-term training for care providers and other professionals in the system to implement nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ youth as well as hiring an ombudsman to specifically address discrimination in the child welfare system.
The new ombudsman position will address any complaint of discrimination via an anonymous hotline that will allow an immediate investigation of claims of mistreatment. Young people, many of whom have experienced trauma, family rejection, and abuse, need to know that they are safe and that their rights will be respected.
We know that policies must come with training to have an impact and DCF has assured us of their commitment to providing comprehensive, evidence-based training to all employees to ensure that these important policies are put into practice. The Department will be updating the materials they provide to all young people in their care to ensure they know the paths available if these basic rights are being denied.
The Secretary has assured us that the Department will never fund or condone conversion therapy, a psychologically harmful practice that has no place in the child welfare system. The Department heard us loud and clear that removing an explicit prohibition of conversion therapy could unfortunately be interpreted as a tacit endorsement of the harmful practice, and that it is crucial to set clear expectations that forcing young people into “conversion” therapy has never and will never be tolerated.
Equality Florida, along with our local and national partners, will be working closely with DCF to pursue additional reforms and follow up these important changes with research to ensure they are having the necessary impact. We look forward to continuing this dialogue and we are encouraged to hear the Secretary’s unequivocal commitment to young people who need a safe and nurturing home.
We also want to issue a specific challenge to more members of our community to become foster parents. Florida needs more people willing to open their homes and their hearts. We need greater diversity among our foster families. A Muslim child or Orthodox Jewish teenager needs a home that acknowledges and respects their faith. A gay or transgender child needs a family that will love and accept them for who they are. Children with special needs deserve a family who can provide for them. Nothing will improve the lives of young people in the child welfare system more than proper placement and that depends on an expanded pool of diverse options. I encourage all LGBTQ adults to seriously consider this challenge, and to be the adult you wish you had in your life when you were young. I am proud to work every day towards creating a Florida where every single child knows they are celebrated and valued for exactly who they are. I hope you will join me.”