LCFS of Illinois Honored as Innovator in Supporting and Serving LGBTQ Youth and Families

  •  June 27, 2019

 

Danny entered foster care at age 3 when he and his siblings were removed from their mother’s care due to abuse. During the next 17 years, Danny bounced around from home to home and even spent time in a residential group facility and psychiatric hospitals.

During his teens, Danny spent six and a half years in one foster mom’s home. Unfortunately, he struggled there because she wasn’t accepting of Danny as a transgendered youth. “She tried to get me to be girly when that wasn’t me and it wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t feel like she accepted me,” shared Danny.

This resulted in Danny receiving care at a psychiatric hospital. When he was scheduled for release, Danny made the decision that he didn’t want to go back with his current foster mom. “I couldn’t go back to that same person because she wasn’t accepting of me and my gender. I can’t help who I am.”

According to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), there are nearly 17,500 children in Illinois’ child welfare system. Research has shown that LGBTQ youth are over-represented in the foster care system and also face disparities – differences in experiences in care and treatment, including being rejected or mistreated because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The unacceptable reality is that LGBTQ youth – after facing the trauma that brought them into care – too often experience additional trauma from a foster care system that subjects them to further bias and discrimination.

With this critical need for not only foster homes, but parents who are welcoming and affirming, agencies need to embrace the many different kinds of families that can provide supportive and nurturing homes to help foster youth reach their full and unique potential.

Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois (LCFS) – the second largest private provider of child welfare services in Illinois, including foster care and adoption – made an agency-wide commitment to becoming WIDE, which stands for Welcoming, Inclusive, Diverse and Equitable.

As part of this initiative, LCFS engaged with All Children – All Families (ACAF), a project of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, which seeks to improve practice with youth and families by promoting LGBTQ-inclusive policies and affirming practices among child welfare agencies. Recently, LCFS was honored by receiving the ACAF Seal of Recognition as a 2019 “Innovator in Supporting and Serving LGBTQ Youth & Families.” LCFS is the only private child welfare agency in Illinois being recognized at this top tier.

“LCFS is very proud to receive the Innovator Seal from ACAF. It is core to our values that all people that come to us for service know that they are welcome, we value them, and we are privileged to partner in service with them,” said LCFS President and CEO Mike Bertrand.

Historically, LCFS struggled with serving and working with the LGBTQ community. In recent years, agency leadership made the commitment to embrace inclusion and diversity because it’s best to be of service to all children and families. LCFS updated its policies to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. In addition, widespread changes were made within the organization’s culture, practices and training in order to transform into a welcoming agency.

“We have gained so much,” shared LCFS Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Beverly Jones. “New learnings, new partnerships, new donors, new prospective foster and adoptive families for children and, most importantly, a supportive and affirming environment for children and youth whose sexual orientation and gender identity and expression have been rejected previously by so many.”

While LCFS leadership is proud of the work that has been done to receive the seal, they understand that this is just the beginning and there is more work to be done.  “The LGBTQ community continues to be discriminated against in many aspects of our society,” explained Bertrand. “LCFS is committed to being an active part of a just society and we encourage others to join us in making a commitment to ensure we are welcoming to all.”

Today, Danny is in a new home with his LCFS licensed foster mom Karen. “It is the first time I have felt completely accepted,” said Danny. “She doesn’t judge me and accepts me for me.”

Together LCFS staff and Karen have helped to support Danny and provide him with an affirming home. “I think that all foster moms out there should give youth who are from the LGBTQ community a try,” explained Danny. “You shouldn’t judge someone based on what they like. They still deserve to be in a good home.”

Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois is a welcoming organization that serves people of all faiths, races, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender expressions and gender-identifications. If you or someone you know is interested in providing a safe and nurturing home to children in need through foster care or adoption, learn more at www.lcfs.org or contact (800) 363-LCFS.

To learn more about All Children – All Families, visit www.hrc.org/campaigns/all-children-all-families, and to find LGBTQ-inclusive agencies in your area, check out the list of participating agencies.

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