FreeState Justice announced on August 4 that the Maryland Department of Human Resources (DHR) released a policy directive outlining key protections for LGBTQ foster youth. DHR developed the new directive in consultation with the Youth Equality Alliance (YEA), a policy coalition of service providers, nonprofits, government agencies, and individuals advocating for LGBTQ youth in Maryland, coordinated by FreeState Justice.
This action is expected to impact the lives of countless Maryland youth in foster care, according to Saida Agostini, Director of Community Engagement and Youth Policy for FreeState Justice, and YEA coordinator.The directive establishes clear protections for LGBTQ youth in out-of-home care. Most notably, the directive mandates that a transgender and gender non-conforming youth’s sex assigned at birth cannot be the basis for the placement of the young person in a sex-segregated housing assignment. Rather, placement in congregate care must take into consideration the individual health and safety needs of the young person.
In addition, local departments of social services must vet all placements for all openly LGBTQ-identified youth in care to ensure that placements are LGBTQ-affirming, and may not coerce LGBTQ youth into so-called “conversion therapy” to “change” their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Among other highlights, the policy directive outlines procedures for caseworkers to assess the safety of placements as well as other resource providers, makes explicit that youth are permitted to dress and groom themselves consistent with their gender identity and expression, and provides that youth should be called by their preferred name and pronouns.
“This is an incredible moment that realizes one of our key goals as a coalition to protect LGBTQ youth,” said Agostini. “Studies have found that LGBTQ youth in care, especially LGBTQ youth of color, routinely face verbal and physical harassment in placement. This is unacceptable—our children must know that home is a safe place to go. DHR’s LGBTQ policy directive creates clear procedures and standards that will safeguard some of our most vulnerable youth.”DHR has coupled the release of this policy directive with a comprehensive statewide training of all county level social service employees that will begin this fall. Indeed, the directive mandates regular LGBTQ cultural competency trainings for both new and current staff members.
The new policy directive, which is titled “Policy SSA-CW #17-08: Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) Youth and Families,” is available from DHR’s website.Formed in May 2013, YEA members include FreeState Justice, Advocates for Children and Youth, PFLAG Columbia-Howard County, The Frederick Center, Homeless Persons Representation Project, STAR TRACK Adolescent Health Program at University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.
For more information about the Youth Equality Alliance, and its advocacy work, visit here.