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Lurie Children's, DCFS identifying LGBTQ youths in foster-care system
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago ( Lurie Children's ) and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services ( DCFS ) are teaming on a research study to identify LGBTQ youth who are in foster care so they can get as much accurate data as possible and provide vital support to this population.

Dr. Kirsten Simonton, Lurie Children's Division of Child Abuse Pediatrics attending physician, is the principal investigator of the study—the ALLIED ( Advancements Leading to LGBTQ Improved Experiences in DCFS ) Project.

Simonton explained that the first step is to gather perceptions of LGBTQ-identified youth with current or prior DCFS involvement regarding how gender identity and sexual orientation can be assessed safely and accurately within the child-welfare system. To reach out to LGBTQ youth who are currently or have been in DCFS custody, Simonton and her team have created a flyer that they are distributing state-wide to agencies and individuals who interact with this population.

To participate one must be at least 12 years old, be in the custody of DCFS currently or within the last 10 years and self-identify as LGBTQ—this includes being attracted to people of the same gender and/or gender-expansive, transgender, nonbinary and/or gender-questioning.

The study team is conducting one-on-one interviews with youth to understand what language and questions to use in assessments of gender and sexual identity, what would maximize the safety of these assessments, what is important regarding privacy and confidentiality of this information and what youth believe the risks and benefits are of DCFS having this information.

Multiple studies have shown that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system across the U.S. where they are estimated to comprise up to 30 percent of the approximately 400,000 youth in the system. This is compared to the approximately 5 to 7 percent of the general population that identifies as LGBTQ.

The Williams Institute, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Child Welfare League have determined that LGBTQ youth are more likely to experience discrimination, placement instability and leave foster care without a forever home than their non-LGBTQ peers.

According to Simonton, there is currently no systematic agency-wide strategy within DCFS to assess gender identity or sexual orientation among youth in care other than self-disclosure. Simonton said this results in large under-detection of LGBTQ youth and reduced ability for DCFS to follow best practices when it comes to the specific issues LGBTQ youth in foster care face.

"Developing a safe and effective strategy within DCFS to identify LGBTQ youth is not only important to understand epidemiology and the magnitude of this issue, but it is also a critical step in recognizing what their experiences are, what resources they need, how their outcomes compare to other youth in foster care and how any risks or negative outcomes can be mitigated," said Simonton. "The study team will be traveling to conduct interviews at a location of convenience and safety for participants, and incentives are provided to any individuals who participate in interviews."

To participate in the study or for more information, call or text Lurie Children's Clinical Research Coordinator Elizabeth Charleston at 773-340-3147 or email .

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