Wiener bill would protect LGBTQ foster youth from non-affirming homes

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Friday March 17, 2023
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State Senator Scott Wiener. Photo: Courtesy Sen. Wiener's office
State Senator Scott Wiener. Photo: Courtesy Sen. Wiener's office

A California lawmaker announced a bill Friday would limit the ability of prospective foster parents who aren't affirming of LGBTQ youth identity to become resource families.

Senate Bill 407, introduced by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) is seeking to clarify section 16519.61 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code, which governs how counties or departments can deny or refuse someone's ability to become a foster parent.

Wiener told the Bay Area Reporter that while some people may have objections to LGBTQ rights — 29% of Americans were not in favor of same-sex marriage according to a 2022 Gallup poll, for example — that doesn't give them license to hurt queer young people developing a sense of their identities.

"Being a resource family is a privilege, not a right," Wiener stated, referring to foster parents. "If a family feels that their religious beliefs prevent them from supporting a foster kid's full identity, they are unfit to take on this responsibility. A person's religious views don't override a kid's right to be safe."

Wiener also stated, "Every child deserves to be 100% supported at home."

"SB 407 ensures that foster youth receive this essential support by specifically requiring LGBTQ acceptance be considered in the resource family approval process, creating standard documentation for the assessment of LGBTQ youth needs, and ensuring more frequent follow-up," he continued. "These youth are at high risk for homelessness, criminal justice involvement, and mental health issues, and we must do everything in our power to ensure they have a safe home in the state of California."

The law currently states that the California Department of Social Services "may deny a resource family application or rescind the approval of a resource family, and the department may exclude an individual from any resource family home, for ... conduct that poses a risk or threat to the health and safety, protection, or well-being of a child, another individual, or the people of the State of California."

Erik Mebust, Wiener's communications director, told the B.A.R. that "the part we're trying to clarify with our legislation" is whether that conduct includes not affirming a child's LGBTQ identity by, for example, holding that homosexuality is wrong, or that gender is fixed at birth.

"Right now it's unclear if that conduct qualifies as a threat to the child and our legislation would clarify that it is, and that it's valid grounds to deny a potential resource family," Mebust stated.

"Our bill expressly clarifies that conduct of these kinds posing risk/threat to protection or well-being of a child specifically includes LGBTQ youth," he added.

Thirty percent of youth in foster care identify as LGBTQ, Wiener's office stated, making them overrepresented in the system.

Specifically, Wiener's bill would require explicit consideration of LGBTQ youth in home and environmental assessments; create standard documentation by the Department of Social Services for these assessments to include LGBTQ youth needs; and review county-approved resource families to evaluate if they are meeting the needs of LGBTQ youth and investigate related incidents as needed, a legislative fact sheet from his office stated.

Additionally, SB 407 would ensure that resource families have the necessary skills, knowledge, and abilities to support LGBTQ youth; and clarify existing law that conduct that poses risk to the health and safety of LGBTQ youth is a valid reason for denial of a resource family, the fact sheet stated.

The Los Angeles-based Trevor Project reported, "73% of LGBTQ youth report that they had experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity at least once in their lifetime, and those who did attempted suicide at more than twice the rate of those who did not in the past year."

The agency stated that a "2020 peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project's researchers, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that transgender and nonbinary youth who report experiencing discrimination based on their gender identity had more than double the odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not experience discrimination based on their gender identity."

In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 175 by Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Carson), which added the right of foster youth to be referred to by their stated name and pronouns in the Foster Youth Bill of Rights.

Nonetheless, "LGBTQ foster youth are still being placed in homes with families that discriminate against or are hostile toward them based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity," the fact sheet from Wiener's office stated. "To maximize the opportunity for LGBTQ foster youth to succeed, we need to ensure they are placed in homes that support them."

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