Illinois agencies are partnering in hopes of increasing the pool of LGBTQ parents involved in foster care and adoption.
Studies have found that a disproportionate number of youth in need of forever families are LGBTQ. These youths also tend to face unique challenges because of their identities.
Renee Lehocky, director of strategic initiatives at social services organization Lawrence Hall, said of the LGBTQ youth who end up homeless, 50 percent of them have had some relationship with the Department of Children and Family Services at some point in their life.
"What we found is often these youth are rejected from their family," Lehocky said.
Susan Stogaboard member for Let It Be Us, a nonprofit focused on educating potential foster and adoptive parentsadded, "Usually, when you think about a child or a teen entering foster care, there is a set of circumstances you think about, like mom and dad cannot take care of them or they were removed. With a lot of teens in the LGBTQ community, its because their parents don't want to support who they've become, and that is heartbreaking."
Because of their unique circumstances, LGBTQ kids in need of forever families are often in their teens and, according to a 2016 study conducted by the Street Outreach Program of the Family and Youth Services Bureau, they are more likely to have attempted suicide, suffered from depression, are at a higher risk for substance abuse and at a higher risk for HIV and STIs than their peers.
Lehocky said the point of the July event is to educate the LGBTQ community about fostering and adoption and ultimately to find accepting homes for more children.
"We've done some research and there is a great recognized strength in LGBTQ parents," said Debbie Saucedo, senior director of operations at the Illinois Center for Adoption and Permanency.
Saucedo said LGBTQ parents understand what it's like to be seen as different and are often better able to support the unique needs of LGBTQ youth because of their own experiences.
"They are able to expose children to a diverse world and to be able to accept those differences," Saucedo said. "Also, when they adopt the decision is extremely intentional, and they tend to have more resources and more support systems."
Outreach targeting potential LGBTQ parents specifically is new for many of the agencies involved in the event.
"We haven't done the targeted recruitment to bring this issue to this community," Lehocky said.
She said the LGBTQ community has been a largely untapped resource and one she thinks can help solve the problem of finding forever homes for more youth.
She also thinks the passage of marriage equality across the country is adding to increased interest from same sex couples in starting families.
Saucedo said her agency in particular has seen an increase in same sex couples adopting.
"We've seen, within this last year, a 22-percent increase of same sex couples looking to adopt one of our children who has been listed, which is a great improvement for us," she said.
The recruitment event is the first in a yearlong effort to find more potential parents for targeted groups of kids.
"The LGBTQ outreach event is just the first event," Lehocky said. "We have two more events planned. One is recruiting foster homes in general for adolescence whether gay or straight. And the last event will be youth with special medical needs or intellectual disabilities.
"Our goal is to develop a robust pool of respective foster and adoptive homes."
Stoga said it's important to remember anyone can adopt from foster care or be a foster parent, and that these programs do not discriminate against age, income, marital status, gender or sexual orientation.
She invites anyone who thinks they might want to be a parent, now or in the future, to attend the event and learn more about the opportunities available.
Representatives from the following agencies will be available throughout the event: Aunt Martha's, Childserv, Hephzibah Children's Association, Kaleidoscope, Lakeside Community Committee, Lawrence Hall, Little City, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, National Youth Advocate Program, and SOS Children's Villages. Also attending will be some children who are available for adoption.
"Call to Action: Foster and Adopt Our Children" is being held on Saturday, July 9, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., at the University of Illinois at Chicago Student Center, 750 S. Halsted St.
Visit letitbeus.org/event/call-action-foster-adopt-children/ to learn more .