By Ghirlandi Guidetti, Staff Attorney

Recently, the Children & Family Research Center released the 2017 Illinois Child Well-Being Studywhich takes a look at the current health of children and youths in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). This important snapshot of the well-being of children in the state’s care is the direct result of the ACLU’s advocacy in B.H.and the court-appointed experts’ recommendation to restore funding for the survey, which sampled 700 children and interviewed caseworkers, caregivers, and the children themselves. 

We have been anxiously awaiting this report as this was the first time questions concerning sexual orientation and gender identity were added to this important statewide survey. The ACLU of Illinois worked hard to ensure these questions were included in order to more fully understand the experiences and needs of LGBTQ+ youth in state care.

The study states that 21.8% of the youth age 12 to 17 who were interviewed reported being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning. Despite the small size of this group, LGBTQ+ youths were significantly more likely to score high on self-report measures of negative mood, bodily concerns, and thought problems, more likely to report often or always hating going to school, and more likely to report having been beat up by an adult at home at some point in their life. 

As multiple studies point out, too many LGBTQ youth find themselves in the custody of child welfare systems like DCFS, and once in substitute care, too many experience disapproval, discrimination and abuse. LGBTQ+ youth in our state have the legal right to be treated equally and to safely express their sexual orientation and gender identity. The negative experiences outlined in this report – including in schools – highlight the work DCFS needs to do to protect and affirm these vulnerable youth. The study also clearly concludes that more research into the LGBTQ+ population in state care is needed immediately.

In 2017, DCFS updated its LGBTQ policy in Appendix K to Procedures 302 in an attempt to strengthen non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ youth and promote safe and affirming environments for them, as well as require proper training for DCFS workers and caregivers on the needs of LGBTQ youth. However, since then, there has been little to no public information about its implementation or how DCFS provides oversight on the promises of Appendix K. 

We have no idea how – or if – Appendix K is being followed. This is why the ACLU of Illinois supported Senate Resolution 403, which directs the Auditor General to conduct a performance audit of DCFS’s compliance with its obligations to protect and affirm LGBTQ+ youth in its care and the operations and management of DCFS.

As the 2017 Child Well-Being Study yet again shows, LGBTQ+ youth are overrepresented in our child welfare system and face disproportionally worse outcomes than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. The ACLU has long advocated for DCFS to address these issues, including rejection form non-affirming placements, overreliance on congregate care, harassment, and physical violence. DCFS needs to fully implement and enforce its policies concerning LGBTQ+ youth and dedicate the proper resources towards studying and remedying the discrimination they so often face – without any more delay.