How LGBTQ Youth are Changing the Foster Care System

Nakiya is one of many foster youth working toward improving the foster care system for LGBTQ people—but their life almost took another direction.

The night before attending the QIC-LGBTQ2S summit, Nakiya was sure they were going to bail. “I had just been rejected from my dream university and journalism program that day,” they said to me over the phone. “I did not want to go.”

But something told them they should. “I’ve always been passionate about advocacy,” they said. “When someone said there was an opportunity to advocate for foster youth, I was like: ‘What? Of course I would like to do that. That’s my middle name!’”

Nakiya is one of the foster youth working closely with QIC-LGBTQ2S, an entity led by the Institute for Innovation & Implementation. The goal is to improve the outcomes of young adults in foster care with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions. Youth MOVE National is a core partner.

Systems-change work that doesn’t include the voices of those served is like conducting a train without knowing where your passengers need to go. Research has consistently shown that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system. A recent study based in Los Angeles found that 19 percent of foster youth are LGBTQ—that’s nearly one in five. And once in the system, they face bias and discrimination.

So if you want to positively impact the foster care system, why is it important to include the voices of LGBTQ youth?

“Because they are foster youth,” said Nakiya without hesitation. That’s what led them to actually go to the summit. “I loved everything I saw. That’s the moment I realized I didn’t even want to be a journalist. I wanted to do more community work, gritty work.”

The cohort of QIC-LGBTQ2S sites includes Michigan; Allegheny County, PA; Cuyahoga County, OH; and Prince George’s County, MD—Nakiya’s site. They all work with current foster youth, foster parents, bio parents, and foster alumni. They collect data in their respective communities on how they can improve conditions and outcomes, then they get together to share information and tips on what has worked in their own cities.

“It’s a collaborative space where we all learn from one another,” Nakiya said. “The passion from everybody that’s participating—it’s beautiful, and I love it.”

“I didn’t see a lot of work with LGBTQ foster youth before QIC. It will be the ripple effect that allows for a bigger change. I feel like it’s going to be a part of history.”

“Currently, there are no evidence-based practices that improve permanency for LGBTQ2S youth, specifically in foster care,” said Lydia, Youth MOVE National’s Youth Program Specialist who works closely on QIC-LGBTQ2S. “The dedication, expertise, lived experience, and enthusiasm everyone brings to the QIC will make it possible for us to better understand which interventions are most helpful for the amazing LGBTQ2S youth in foster care systems.”

Here’s how QIC works: Each site has a leadership team made up of state system representatives, researchers, data managers, social workers, and program designers, as well as young adults who have been LGBTQ2S youth in the foster care system. Then, at each site locally, there are the dedicated staff and youth of every organization or agency carrying out the implementation and evaluation of these interventions.

“Before QIC, life was pretty boring,” Nakiya said. “But this work has helped me gain so much confidence. It’s hard to speak up as a Black, queer person in a room full of white people. They were willing to listen, and that was great.” And as for Nakiya’s future plans? There are endless possibilities beyond journalism. “I want to open a community center for young adults. I want to be the Black, queer, trans Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”

For now, though, Nakiya is thrilled being a part of the QIC-LGBTQ2S collaborative. “I think it’ll help push for a better change in the right direction,” they said. “I didn’t see a lot of work with LGBTQ foster youth before QIC. It will be the ripple effect that allows for a bigger change. I feel like it’s going to be a part of history.”

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