Protecting the Rights and Providing Appropriate Services to LGBTQIA2S+ Youth in Out-of-Home Care

Research indicates that youth who identify as LGBTQIA2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, asexual, Two-Spirit, or other gender or sexual identity) have more negative experiences and outcomes when they enter out of home care than non-LGBTQIA2S+ youth. Studies have found that LGBTQIA2S+ youth are more likely to report being maltreated while in foster care, more likely to experience a greater number of placements and time in foster care, and less likely to be placed in family-based settings than non-LGBTQIA2S+ youth. This publication reviews State laws and policies that are directed toward reducing the negative experiences of LGBTQIA2S+ youth in care, including those that affirm a youth’s rights to be safe and free from discrimination, have access to needed care and services, and be placed in nurturing settings with caregivers who have received appropriate training. Child Welfare Information Gateway uses the term LGBTQIA2S+ to be as inclusive as possible, but State child welfare laws use an array of acronyms, with LGBTQ being the most common.


In approximately 39 States and the District of Columbia, youth placed in out-of-home care who identify as LGBTQIA2S+ have explicit protections from harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. In the laws and policies of 26 States and the District of Columbia, these explicit protections, include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Receiving fair treatment, whatever their gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation
  • Learning about their sexuality in a safe and supportive environment
  • Living in a safe, healthy, and comfortable home where they are treated with respect
  • Being free from physical, sexual, emotional, or other abuse; corporal punishment; and exploitation
  • Being referred to by their chosen names and gender pronouns
  • Maintaining privacy regarding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, unless the youth permits the information to be disclosed


All youth who have been placed in out of home care should feel safe, be respected, and receive medical, vision, dental, and mental health treatment. They must be assisted in obtaining access to education services—at their schools of origin when feasible—and be given opportunities to participate in age appropriate or developmentally appropriate activities and experiences. Laws and policies in 22 States and the District of Columbia require that agencies provide youth who identify as LGBTQIA2S+ with services and supports that are affirming of the youth’s LGBTQIA2S+ identity and are tailored to meet their specific needs. This may include providing clothing and hygiene products that affirm the youth’s identity, including gender identity and expression, and referring to the youth by their chosen name and pronouns. In eight States and the District of Columbia, agencies offer developmentally appropriate case management that is oriented toward understanding and appreciating the youth’s gender experience and facilitating access to gender-affirming medical, mental health, and social services.

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