Surveying LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care: Lessons from Los Angeles 

by Bianca D.M. Wilson, Khush Cooper, Angel Kastanis, and Soon Kyu Choi
November 2016

This report describes the methodology used in a 2014 Williams Institute study on sexual and gender minority youth in the Los Angeles County foster care system . The 2014 study surveyed youth in foster care about their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, other demographic characteristics, and experiences in foster care. In this methods report about the 2014 study, researchers describe the study design and process, share their survey instrument and recommended questions, and review lessons learned from their experience.

Serving LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care: Lessons from Los Angeles was developed by Williams Institute researchers Bianca D.M. Wilson, Angel Kastanis, Soon Kyu Choi and Khush Cooper of Khush Cooper & Associates.  This report will be useful to researchers interested in conducting traditional research as well as those who work in foster care systems interested in adding sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression measures to their current internal research and evaluation efforts or administrative records.

“Studying how best to assess sexual and gender minority status among youth in foster care requires engaging the groups and communities of people who care and work with them, including the youth themselves,” said Dr. Bianca D.M. Wilson, lead author of the report.  “This includes figuring out ways that the setting and experiences of foster youth are similar to and different from non-foster youth and how those differences matter for approaches to asking questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. ”

Other key points to surveying LGBTQ Youth in foster care include:

  • Engaging with the foster care system during the study planning process helps ensure the study proposed methods work in real-life settings and that youth confidentiality is protected.
  • Recruitment methodology will differ depending on the accuracy level of contact data for youth and whether youth are in congregate foster care sites, such as group homes or residential care facilities.
  • Adding a response option “I don’t know what this question means” to the sexual orientation and gender identity questions helped researchers distinguish between youth who were not sure of their sexual and gender identity (indicating a “questioning” status) and youth who simply did not understand the question.

Researchers studying LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system may consider collecting more than just identity measures. They may consider sexual or romantic attraction, expression, behavior, sex assigned at birth, evidence of peer or family conflict related to sexual and gender minority status, and experiences with discrimination related to actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

Serving LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care: Lessons from Los Angeles report is funded by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the Children Bureau’s Permanency Innovations Initiative.

Read the report.

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