Guest Opinion: It's time to expand the Youth Acceptance Project

  • by Jill Jacobs
  • Wednesday August 24, 2022
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Family Builders Executive Director Jill Jacobs
Family Builders Executive Director Jill Jacobs

All children deserve a family who loves them unconditionally. They deserve a place where they feel they belong and where they receive love and acceptance of who they are. But for many youth in foster care, that is not their reality. In California, there are over 54,000 children in foster care, and 30% of these youth self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, or gender expansive. They often land in foster care because they came out, were found out or were kicked out. Foster care is not a good place for children to grow up.

All children, including LGBTQ+ children, belong with their families. Family acceptance is a protective factor for young people. But family rejection can be lethal. The suicide rate for LGBTQ+ young folks is beyond frightening. A recent report by the West Hollywood-based Trevor Project reported that 50% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and 53% of transgender and nonbinary youth report having seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months.

Additionally, there are about 1.6 million homeless youth in the United States, half of whom identify as LGBTQ+. They are homeless because they were kicked out of their home, or fled their home or the foster care system because of the trauma they were experiencing.

But it doesn't have to be this way; here in the Bay Area, we have demonstrated that families can be supported in learning to embrace their LGBTQ+ youth. Family Builders' Youth Acceptance Project has proven to be successful in doing so. By expanding this model statewide, we can change the heartbreaking outcomes youth experience from rejection to acceptance.

Parents love their children. They are just not always prepared for the crisis that has arisen in their family. They need support, guidance, and information about how to be a supportive parent of an LGBTQ+ youth. They need a professional to meet them where they are at and help them navigate the new world they have entered. The good news is, families can and do change. With the Youth Acceptance Project intervention, families are able to become the affirming, loving caregivers their children need them to be. And when they reach the point of becoming affirming and accepting, the impact on children is profound: Youth who perceived they had parental support were 93% less likely to attempt suicide than youth who did not perceive they had parental support.

So how do we get there? How do we ensure all children are raised by loving, affirming parents? We pass Assembly Bill 2663 by Assemblymember James Ramos (D-Highland). It's a pilot program to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Youth Acceptance Project. Once the model is implemented and evaluated, it can be replicated widely.

The program has shown phenomenal success. Ninety percent of caregivers completing the program have shown improvement in their ability to affirm and accept their children. The youth have shown a dramatic reduction in self-harming and suicidal behavior, and they have stayed in school with parental support.

The Youth Acceptance Project reduces the time that children spend in foster care, reunites children with their families and, in many cases, prevents separation in the first place. It's a tough journey, but perhaps the most important one a family will ever take.

That's why it's critical Governor Gavin Newsom sign AB 2663. This bill would transform the Youth Acceptance Project into a five-year pilot program across at least three counties. It would spark additional county and regional collaboration to address the disproportionate number of LGBTQ+ youth who are separated from their families. We are living in a world that seems to become more perilous by the day for the LGBTQ+ population. States across the country are passing discriminatory legislation targeting LGBTQ+ people, especially those who are children. This bill offers California an opportunity to show the nation a better way: to do better for our children and their families by expanding a proven model of intervention to prevent LGBTQ+ youth homelessness, keeping children out of the foster care system, and to support family acceptance and permanency.

Let's be clear, LGBTQ+ youth don't face increased risks because of their identities, or because of who they are as people. Instead, they face increased risks because of the stresses society places on them, stresses like prejudice, discrimination, rejection, and mistreatment. These are children, and like all children, they thrive and succeed when their families, schools and communities support and nurture their evolving identities. The Youth Acceptance Project plays a vital role in nurturing that support and development. Families can and do change. And it's time more youth get the chance to experience a loving family and unconditional acceptance.

Jill Jacobs, a lesbian, is executive director of Oakland-based Family Builders.

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