Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth of color (YOC) are overrepresented in two major systems that represent government and community response to crises—child welfare and juvenile justice (Huggins-Hoyt, Briggs, Mowbray, & Allen, 2019; Irvine, Angela & Canfield, 2016; Wilson et al., 2017; Wilson & Kastanis, 2015). Moreover, sexual minority girls of color are especially overrepresented in both systems. Using an intersectionality lens (Bowleg, 2008; Crenshaw, 1991; Wilson & Harper, 2012) and a critical public health approach (Bunton & Wills, 2004), we would expect that system-involved youth who are both LGBTQ and a racial or ethnic minority would experience both similar and unique structural factors leading to differential rates of involvement with and emancipation from these systems compared to other youth. We have attempted to consider multiple forms of inequality and structural drivers in both the convening that led to the development of this report, as well as in the report itself.
This report is a collection of working papers focused on understanding what we know and what we need to better understand the lives and outcomes of system-involved youth who are both LGBTQ and racial/ethnic minorities. The working papers evolved out of The Intersectional Convening on LGBTQ Youth of Color in Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Systems held at UCLA School of Law to identify gaps in knowledge related to LGBTQ youth of color in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems and to recommend areas of future research. The convening of senior and rising scholars was organized by the Williams Institute and supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Palette Fund, to develop a research-based and data-driven blueprint for action by scholars who are primarily LGBTQ and/or people of color themselves. As part of the blueprint setting process, a secondary aim was to form a community of scholars who would collaborate on research to reduce contact with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems and to promote positive outcomes (e.g., permanency, employment, mental well-being) among those who are system-involved. Additionally, once the working papers were completed, the editors of the working paper collection worked with LGBTQ youth of color so that they could share their feedback on the report findings and recommendations, which we then incorporated.
Here we summarize the main findings and recommendations for future research based on the scholars’ reviews of the empirical literature and discussions at the convening. Overall, youth who participated in the feedback sessions agreed with the scholars’ statements about what the empirical research demonstrates and what might need to be addressed next. They emphasized several of the main points, and also added a few unique points, which are described in full in the youth response section and integrated into the main findings and recommendations below.
- Structural racism and LGBTQ stigma likely increase risk of system-involvement for LGBTQ youth of color through a variety of mechanisms, including:
- historic and contemporary policies (e.g., forced cultural assimilation of American Indian children, policies that promote racial segregation and concentrated poverty)
- prejudice towards racial/ethnic minority youth that “adultifies” youth of color and views them as threatening versus as children who are deserving of protection and care
- family rejection and conflict
- differential school-based discipline targeting LGBTQ youth of color and discrimination against them, particularly within K-12 educational settings
- growing up in “low opportunity” neighborhoods as youth of color
- disproportionate targeting by police as LGBTQ youth of color
- homelessness and poverty, that are a consequence of the mechanisms described above, coupled with lack of access to jobs, that lead to survival crimes
- a lack of adequate access to competent community-based resources, including mental health, health, and social services prepared to support LGBTQ youth of color in managing stigma-related stress and overcoming structural disadvantage
- LGBTQ youth of color appear to stay longer in child welfare and juvenile justice systems and to be at elevated risk of discrimination and violence once system-involved compared to other groups of youth.
- Little else is known about the experiences, needs, or preferences of LGBTQ youth of color in these systems, as well as in related systems, including education, homeless services, and health care, and inclusive of mental health care within all systems.
- Importantly, little is known about how to prevent harm and promote positive outcomes for LGBTQ youth of color once system-involved, including how to reduce violence perpetrated against youth by staff and other adults involved in these systems, and access to employment and safe, affordable housing, and support for decision-making once emancipated from them.
- Gaps in child welfare and juvenile justice data systems inhibit the development of knowledge about LGBTQ youth at the entrance, during, and after system involvement, and impede monitoring over time.
Overarching Recommendations for Future Research
- Build on the collective knowledge of LGBTQ youth of color. Youth produce knowledge about how to navigate various institutional settings, for example, in conversations with one another about staying safe in certain settings or access resources. These conversations and everyday actions, including acts of resistance and forms of expressive culture, are sites of knowledge production from which researchers can learn more about the lives of youth, and from which researchers and young people can work together to address structural inequities and take action to reform systems.
- Use a range of epistemological and methodological frameworks and data collection methods to address gaps in knowledge, particularly:
- Participatory research models that promote youth-led problem definition, increase the capacities of youth, include them in the paid workforce, and give rise to solutions that promote social and/or system change.
- Ensure that data on the race/ethnicity of youth and their families are accurate and complete.
- Include measures of sexual orientation, gender identity, sex assigned at birth, and gender expression (SOGIE) in child welfare and juvenile justice data collection systems to enable the tracking and reporting of outcomes for LGBTQ youth of color.
- Train staff on how to collect these demographic data using self-report measures and on the importance of maintaining confidentiality.
- Study pioneering systems that are collecting SOGIE data and learn from their experiences. Develop and disseminate best practices for SOGIE data collection within these systems.
- Monitor outcomes for system-involved youth by SOGIE and race/ethnicity, along with other key demographic factors.
- Study outcomes and experiences for LGBTQ youth of color who are enmeshed in multiple systems, particularly child welfare and juvenile justice, but also homeless services and the educational system.
- Identify and evaluate adaptations of promising practices to reduce the risk of system involvement and to promote positive outcomes once youth of color who are LGBTQ are system-involved, including mental health services that promote healing. Examples include: restorative justice practices versus zero-tolerance policies in schools, community capacity building versus policing, and kin placement, coupled with family acceptance therapy, versus group home placement.
- Review existing policies and programs aimed at reducing racial disparities in child welfare and juvenile justice for opportunities to expand and integrate the specific needs of LGBTQ youth of color.
- Challenge and critically examine common assumptions made about family rejection and acceptance among families of color as the primary pathway by which LGBTQ youth of color end up overrepresented in child welfare, homelessness, and incarcerated versus structural disadvantage as the root cause.
- Evaluate existing LGBTQ-related training and develop new models of training and technical assistance that reach workers in a range of job functions, from administrators through front-line staff, and all systems that serve or impact youth. All training should be reviewed in relation to their interrogation of systemic bias and discrimination with regard to race/ethnicity and SOGIE.
- Study impacts of long-term coaching and continuous monitoring and intervention that are needed to support system change.