(MSW 517 / Module 6) Immersion Preparation 1 WHAT’S INSIDEWorking With LGBTQ+ Families in Foster Care and Adoption BULLETINS FOR PROFESSIONALS | JU

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WHAT’S INSIDEWorking With
LGBTQ+
Families in
Foster Care
and Adoption

BULLETINS FOR PROFESSIONALS | JUNE 2021

Tips for effective recruitment and retention

Getting to know the LGBTQ+ community

During the last decade, child welfare
professionals and agencies in the United
States assisted an increasing number of
families headed by parents who identify
as part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and
transgender, questioning, or other diverse
identity (LGBTQ+)/Two-Spirit1 community
(Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 2020).
More public and private agencies have
established supportive practices, and many
are proactively recruiting LGBTQ+ families
to provide resource or adoptive families. This
means a larger pool of highly motivated and
qualified parents for children and youth who
need loving, nurturing homes.

1 Future use of the acronym LGBTQ+ is inclusive of Two-
Spirit individuals.

Language and terminology

Advantages of engaging and recruiting
LGBTQ+ families

Challenges faced by LGBTQ+ prospective
parents

Children’s Bureau/ACYF/ACF/HHS | 800.394.3366 | | https://www.childwelfare.govEmail: info@childwelfare.gov

Supporting transgender parents

Helping LGBTQ+ families navigate challenging
systems

Tips for representing LGBTQ+ families as
prospective foster and adoptive parents

Basics of creating a welcoming and affirming
agency

Conclusion

References

Children’s Bureau/ACYF/ACF/HHS | 800.394.3366 | Email: info@childwelfare.gov | https://www.childwelfare.gov 2

Acronyms and Terms: Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities, and Expression (SOGIE)

Language is always evolving and so are

acronyms used to represent diverse sexual

and/or gender identity. Many acronyms

describe Sexual Orientation and Gender

Identity and Expression, also known as

“SOGIE.” Acronyms associated with SOGIE

include the following:

� “LGBT” and “LGBTQ:” These are the most
common acronyms in research literature

and Federal and State adoption laws.

� “LGBTQI” and “LGBTQIA:”
– “I” stands for intersex.

– “A:” “A” stand for agender, asexual, or
ally.

Intersex: This term refers to individuals born

with variations of sex anatomy resulting in

bodies that do not fit typical definitions of

male or female. Roughly 1 to 1.7 percent of

the general population identify as intersex.

To learn more about intersex, see “Not

Invisible: Debunking 10 Intersex Myths,” and

the InterACT webpage, Intersex Resources

Two-Spirit: This term refers to a person of

a culturally and spiritually distinct gender

exclusively recognized by Native American/

Alaska Native nations. Originating from the

Anishinabe language, Two-Spirit means

having both male and female spirits in one

person. Today, the term has a different

meaning among various Native societies.

For more information on the Two-Spirit

community, see Mending the Rainbow:

Working With Native LBGT/Two Spirit

Community.

Other acronyms include the “+” sign (e.g.,

“LGBT+” or “LGBTQ+”) as an umbrella

to acknowledge the multiple identities,

orientations, and expressions that are

not explicitly recognized by the acronym

but may fall under it, such as “gender

nonconforming,” “gender fluid,” “gender

queer,” “gender expansive,” or “nonbinary.”

This bulletin uses the acronym “LGBTQ+”

in the most inclusive sense of recognizing

people with diverse SOGIE. Research,

products, or services use different versions of

the LGBTQ+ acronym or the same letter in

the acronym to represent different identities

or expressions. For example, some use

“Q” for questioning, while others use it for

queer or both. Although all identities and

expressions may not be recognized explicitly

in the acronym, some of the information

and resources also may be relevant or

helpful to people who identify as belonging

to the broader LGBTQ+ community. As

language continues to evolve, it is important

to respect the changes reflected in that

evolution. Ignoring these changes is a form

of disrespect and may involve biases and

behaviors based on stereotypes. As other

similar acronyms become more common in

the research literature and in programs and

services meant to serve members of this

community, child welfare professionals must

check their biases and respect all aspects of

the LGBTQ+ community. (See the Language

and Terminology section for definitions.)

Children’s Bureau/ACYF/ACF/HHS | 800.394.3366 | Email: info@childwelfare.gov | https://www.childwelfare.gov 3

However, in many parts of the country,
laws, agency policies, and professional
biases continue to present obstacles for
some LGBTQ+ individuals and couples who
are interested in pursuing adoption and
for LGBTQ+ youth waiting for permanent
families. Despite the landmark 2015 Supreme
Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges2 ensuring
marriage equality nationwide, misinformation,
lack of support, and inexperience in working
with LGBTQ+ families prevent many child
welfare and adoption professionals from
providing meaningful and quality services to
adoptive or foster care families who identify
as LGBTQ+ and with LGBTQ+ youth. This
bulletin is designed to help you expand
your cultural responsiveness, competence,
and professional skills when working with
LGBTQ+ individuals and same-gender or
gender-diverse couples. It also examines laws
and policies and provides tips to effectively
engage this vital community.

GETTING TO KNOW THE LGBTQ+
COMMUNITY

The LGBTQ+ community includes all races,
ethnicities, socioeconomic levels, and
educational backgrounds as well as rural,
suburban, and metropolitan dwellers.
Among different ethnic groups, religious
traditions, and cultures, the elements of
SOGIE are viewed and addressed differently.
Child welfare professionals can anticipate
significant variation among members of
LGBTQ+ resource families. For example,
people who identify as LGBTQ+ may differ
in the level of acceptance they experience
among their families of origin and the extent
to which they disclose their own identities or
relationship status to others.

2 On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held, in a 5–4 decision, that “[T]he Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to
license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex
when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.” Read the complete Court ruling, Obergefell v. Hodges.

Many LGBTQ+ individuals and couples may
choose to share very little of their personal
lives with their families of origin, professional
colleagues, or neighbors in fear of being
stigmatized, rejected, fired, or physically
abused. Their cultural norms and traditions
may dictate that one”s personal life should be
kept private. Many LGBTQ+ adults who are
pursuing parenthood have solid networks of
support from their parents, extended family,
community, and friends.

Also, LGBTQ+ resource families often have
nontraditional families comprised of brothers,
sisters, aunts, uncles, etc., who are not
relatives but live together as a way to establish
a support network. It is especially important
to be sensitive to this when these parents
explore fostering and in the home study
process.

Professionals who make assumptions about
the LGBTQ+ people whom they serve may
limit their ability to be a trusted resource and
support. To learn more about LGBTQ+ parents
and families, you can visit the Human Rights
Campaign”s Parenting web section.

While there is opportunity for more research
in the field of LGBTQ+ adoption and
parenting, existing research upholds three
important findings that support LGBTQ+
individuals as parents:

� Children raised by LGBTQ+ parents do
not experience a difference in outcomes
compared with children raised within other
parenting arrangements (Adams & Light,
2015).

� No evidence has been found that having a
transgender parent affects a child”s gender
identity or sexual orientation, and it does

Children’s Bureau/ACYF/ACF/HHS | 800.394.3366 | Email: info@childwelfare.gov | https://www.childwelfare.gov 4

not negatively impact other developmental
milestones (Stotzer et al., 2014).

� The gender identity of youth is not
influenced by having LGBTQ+ adoptive
parents (Farr et al., 2018).

For more on research and best practices, see
Youth With Diverse Sexual Orientation, Gender
Identity and Expression in Child Welfare: A
Review of Best Practices and the National
Quality Improvement Center on Tailored
Services, Placement Stability, and Permanency
for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender,
Questioning, and Two-Spirit Children and
Youth in Foster Care (QIC-LGBTQ2S), a
project funded by the Children’s Bureau to
develop, integrate, and sustain best practices
and programs that improve outcomes for
children and youth in foster care with diverse
SOGIE.

Resources about Two-Spirit identity include
the following:

� LGBTQ2S+ Identities and Child Welfare,
Two-Spirit Identities provides resources on
gender and sexual identities that originate
in traditional understandings.

� Sharing Our Lived Experiences: Eight
Tips for Understanding the Two-Spirit/
LGBTQ Journey for Native Youth in the
Child Welfare System, which is intended,
among other purposes, to support families
and Native youth who may be Two-Spirit
and/or LGBTQ+ achieve healthy identity
and development and reduce their risk
for adverse mental health outcomes and
substance use.

� Sharing Our Lived Experiences: 22 Tips for
Caring for Two-Spirit and Native LGBTQ
Youth in the Child Welfare System offers
valuable information for families and child
welfare professionals working with families
and LGBTQ+ youth. Both Sharing Our Lived
Experiences publications are products of
the National Child Welfare Resource Center
for Tribes.

LANGUAGE AND TERMINOLOGY

The terms, expressions, and ways of
defining oneself are often tied to cultural
understandings of sexuality and gender
and can be influenced by popular culture,
generational experience, religious upbringing,
and/or region of the country. Additionally,
like languages associated with most groups,
the language and terminology used within and
about the LGBTQ+ community have evolved
and will continue to do so over time. For
example, many younger LGBTQ+ Americans
have reclaimed the term “queer” and may
choose to self-identify as such. Other terms
might include being “same-gender loving” (a
term more commonly used by some people of
color), having a “fluid” sexuality, or identifying
as “Two-Spirit” (for American Indian and
Alaska Native individuals).

To learn the basic terminology to use when
working with diverse LGBTQ+ prospective
parents, watch the animated video, “Learning
About Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity &
Expression (SOGIE).”

For a more comprehensive list of terms and
definitions, see the glossary prepared by
the QIC-LGBTQ2S.  

Children’s Bureau/ACYF/ACF/HHS | 800.394.3366 | Email: info@childwelfare.gov | https://www.childwelfare.gov 5

ADVANTAGES OF ENGAGING
AND RECRUITING LGBTQ+
FAMILIES

Extensive research has shown that LGBTQ+
individuals exhibit myriad capacities as
parents and establishing agency policies and
practices that welcome and support LGBTQ+
families come with numerous benefits.
According to AdoptUSKids, LGBTQ+ families
bring particular strengths to parenting
children in foster care, including an ability
to identify with difficult feelings of isolation
or with a sense of being “different” (McRoy
et al., 2010). Children who were adopted,
even as infants, often go through periods of
questioning their identity, an experience with
which most LGBTQ+ parents can identify.

The approximately 424,000 children and
youth currently in foster care in the United
States (U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, Children”s Bureau, 2020) have
diverse backgrounds, identities, and needs
that require child welfare agencies to recruit
an equally diverse pool of families to provide
them with loving, nurturing, and stable
homes. LGBTQ+ parents may be potential
placement options for LGBTQ+ youth, who
are often overrepresented in the foster care
population compared with their peers in the
general population. The recent Cuyahoga
Youth Count report showed that 32 percent
of youth in out-of-home care in Cuyahoga
County, OH, identified as LGBTQ+. This is the
first study of its kind in a Midwestern city.
A recent study from Columbia University
indicates that 34 percent of youth in foster
care identify as something other than 100
percent heterosexual.

3 Adapted from Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 2012; National Resource Center for Adoption, the National Resource
Center for Permanency and Family Connections, & the National Resource Center for Recruitment and Retention of Foster and
Adoptive Parents at AdoptUSKids, 2012.

LGBTQ+ individuals and couples represent
an often-untapped resource of prospective
parents for the thousands of children and
youth in the foster care system who need
loving, permanent homes. Not all prospective
LGBTQ+ parents want to or should be matched
with LGBTQ+ children or youth, however, and
the reverse is also true. Professionals should
keep in mind that every prospective resource
parent should be considered on a case-by-
case basis for a possible placement.

TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE
RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION

For public agencies, expanding the pool of
qualified resource families is a high priority
and essential for meeting the permanency
goals of children and youth in foster care.
Targeted recruitment within the LGBTQ+
community is an important part of this
process and can be folded into existing
efforts. Agencies interested in expanding
recruitment and implementing best practices
in retaining LGBTQ+ families may consider
the following:3

� Continue to match with the best interest
of the child in mind. LGBTQ+ parents can
be great parents to all children, not just
children and youth who identify as LGBTQ+.
Often, they are inappropriately matched
with LGBTQ+ children when another match
may have been better suited.

� Provide staff training to help them navigate
placing children in the best home and to
ensure transparency and understanding.

� Create or update a policy of inclusion and
respect as your first step toward expanding
recruitment and implementing best
practices.

Children’s Bureau/ACYF/ACF/HHS | 800.394.3366 | Email: info@childwelfare.gov | https://www.childwelfare.gov 6

� Ensure that staff and volunteers receive
proper training, are respectful when talking
about diverse families, and speak directly
to and about the LGBTQ+ resource families
who are part of your program.

� Educate staff on cultural responsiveness
and competence, provide opportunities for
those who lack experience working with
the LGBTQ+ population to gain experience,
and address bias before conducting a
home study or family assessment. See the
Personal Bias section below (page 9) for
more details.

� Ensure that a resource parent’s or family’s
first interaction at the front desk is
welcoming, that proper pronouns are used,
and that anyone who comes in contact with
potential recruits extends sincere support
for their desire to become parents.

� Develop new materials, or modify existing
materials, to reflect your agency’s policy
regarding LGBTQ+ resource families.
Update forms that involve legal information
with “Name you would like to be called;”
“Pronouns;” and options for sex, gender,
and sexuality.

� Include photos of diverse families and
specific language and images that resonate
with the community.

� Reach out to local LGBTQ+ communities or
advocacy centers, media, and key LGBTQ+
leaders to establish partnerships.

� Host a recruitment activity or event at a
local LGBTQ+ venue or in a neighborhood
that is LGBTQ+ friendly.

� Ask current LGBTQ+ resource families to
speak at events and to network in their own
communities. Word of mouth is often the
most effective recruitment method.

4 The NRCDR project ended in 2017. Its resources, including tools, tip sheets, and webinars, were moved to AdoptUSKids for
Professionals.

� Ensure that LGBTQ+ families and all
resource families remain informed of
changes to legislation and local, State,
and Tribal codes that provide support for
LGBTQ+ families and LGBTQ+ children in
care.

� Ensure LGBTQ+ resource families are aware
of training and leadership development
opportunities that can assist their growth
as effective advocates and supports for
others.

� Assess the congregation for bias by
visiting the church and talking with the
leadership and members about their values
and policies regarding LGBTQ+ youth
and families if you decide to recruit from
religious congregations.

� Ensure that the “waiting” families group is
inclusive of LGBTQ+ individuals and couples
and that there is ongoing communication
with these families while they are in the
adoption process.

� Ensure LGBTQ+ representation in
workgroups and other opportunities for
their voice to be heard, much like the lived
experience.

Additionally, the former National Resource
Center for Diligent Recruitment at
AdoptUSKids (NRCDR)4 developed several
resources on targeted recruitment and
supportive services for the LGBTQ+
community that you may find helpful:

� “Recruiting and Retaining LGBT Foster,
Adoptive, and Kinship Families: Sending a
Welcoming Message”

� LGBTQ Supplement to the Diligent
Recruitment Navigator

Children’s Bureau/ACYF/ACF/HHS | 800.394.3366 | Email: info@childwelfare.gov | https://www.childwelfare.gov 7

CHALLENGES FACED BY LGBTQ+
PROSPECTIVE PARENTS

While inclusive policies and practices
have increased in both public and private
agencies, prospective LGBTQ+ foster
and adoptive parents continue to face
some unique challenges. These include
inconsistencies in receiving follow-up
services, lack of reasonable recruitment
efforts, and unintended or potential biases
in case notes and court reports. Also, agency
support is often delivered by staff who lack
diversity training and knowledge of social
networks. Research indicates that biases and
discrimination against people with diverse
SOGIE may lead them to forgo foster care
and adoption as ways to build their families
(Goldberg et al., 2019).

Child welfare and adoption agencies have
come a long way, but agencies must strive
to maintain an environment that is inclusive,
nonbiased, and strengths-based and in
which each person or couple is assessed
independently and objectively. More
information and guidance about the home
study and assessment process for LGBTQ+
prospective foster and adoptive families can
be found in LGBT Prospective Foster and
Adoptive Families: The Homestudy Assessment
Process.

Additionally, the following tips are important
to keep in mind while building an inclusive
and welcoming agency:5

� Like all prospective adoptive parents,
LGBTQ+ individuals and couples have
varying ideas about the age, race, and
background of children they feel they are
able to adopt. Listen to and respect their
fears, hopes, and concerns.

5 Adapted from Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 2012.

� Do not assume that prospective LGBTQ+
parents want to or are best suited to raise
LGBTQ+ youth. Likewise, do not assume
that LGBTQ+ or straight children or youth
want to or are best suited to be placed with
LGBTQ+ or straight parents, respectively.
In some cases, this may prove to be an
effective match, but best practices dictate
that matching prospective parents with
waiting children should be done on a case-
by-case basis. Sharonell Fulton V. City Of
Philadelphia, Brief Of Fosterclub And Former
Foster Youth As Amici Curiae In Support Of
Respondents (beginning on p. 24) provides
many powerful stories on the negative
results of agencies refusing LGBTQ+
adoptive parents.

� Prospective LGBTQ+ parents often fear
that they will be more highly scrutinized
or held to different standards than their
heterosexual and cisgender counterparts.
Make it clear that your agency does not
discriminate and ensure that this is truly
the case. Provide realistic information about
the adoption process, the home study and
what it entails, the waiting period, and any
fees or subsidies. If possible, provide this
information to families together, so they
hear consistent information at the same
time.

� Encourage LGBTQ+ families to connect
with other waiting families or support
groups for adoptive parents. The ability to
talk to other families—no matter the sexual
or gender identity—is essential.

� Talk to your supervisor or manager if you
are aware of discrimination in placement
decisions within your agency or among the
agencies with which you routinely work;
the agency should have a plan for effectively

Children’s Bureau/ACYF/ACF/HHS | 800.394.3366 | Email: info@childwelfare.gov | https://www.childwelfare.gov 8

addressing such concerns. It may be helpful
to provide educational materials to your
colleagues, such as the research on LGBTQ+
parenting provided on page 2.

The Family Equality Council connects,
supports, and represents LGBTQ+ parents
across the country. It may be helpful to
connect current or prospective LGBTQ+
parents to support groups or LGBTQ+-
friendly networks that are able to help them
through the process.6

HELPING LGBTQ+ FAMILIES
NAVIGATE CHALLENGING
SYSTEMS

Some unique challenges may arise while
working with prospective LGBTQ+ parents.
Organizational and systemic attitudes and
biases can affect follow through and support
from managers and supervisors. Depending
on the jurisdiction and work setting, these
challenges could include laws, policies,
or misperceptions regarding the LGBTQ+
community.

LAWS

Foremost among the challenges you may
face in working on behalf of LGBTQ+ families
will be the laws and policies that govern
your practice. While Obergefell v. Hodges
established marriage equality in all 50 States,
it did not specifically address foster care or
adoption practices. Laws pertaining to child
welfare and adoption are governed by each
State and can vary widely among agencies.

6 Visit Information Gateway’s Advocacy and Support Organizations for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning
(LGBTQ) Communities for a list of additional national organizations that support, represent, and advocate for the LGBTQ+
community.
7 California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachuse

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