LGBTQ Homeless Youth at Risk, Part 1 of 3

image1Homeless youth, sometimes referred to as “unaccompanied” youth, are individuals under the age of 18 who lack parental, foster, or institutional care. Youth become homeless for a variety of reasons, but rarely by choice. Factors contributing to youth homelessness include family dysfunction, sexual abuse, “aging out” of the foster care system, exiting the juvenile justice system, and economic hardship. According to data from The National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, close to 1.7 million youth are homeless because they either ran away from home or were kicked out of their home.

The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence cites the primary cause of youth homelessness as family dysfunction in the form of parental neglect, physical or sexual abuse, family substance abuse and family violence. Furthermore, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness reports that twenty-five percent of former foster youth became homeless within four years of exiting care.

Data from the Williams Institute indicates that between twenty and forty percent of the homeless youth served by agencies identify as LGBTQ. Forty-three percent of clients served by drop-in centers identified as LGBTQ. Thirty percent of street outreach clients identified as LGBTQ. Thirty percent of clients utilizing housing programs identified as LGBTQ. In short, LGBTQ youth make up a large percentage of the overall homeless youth population.

The roots of LGBTQ youth homelessness are similar to their non-LGBTQ peers. The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, et al., report that the most common factor contributing to LGBTQ homelessness is family rejection based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Similarly, the second most common factor is being forced out by parents or caretakers after coming out. At school LGBTQ students often face harassment–both physical and verbal–which leads to high dropout rates and a greater risk of chronic homelessness. Gay and transgender students are two-times less likely to finish high school or pursue a college education compared to the national average; seventy-five percent of LGBTQ homeless youth drop out before completing high school.

Generally, homeless youth are at greater risk of psychological and physical trauma. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics show that 61.8% of homeless youth report depression, 71.7% report experiencing major trauma such as physical or sexual abuse, and 79.5% experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder for more than a month. Homeless youth are already a vulnerable population, but for the twenty to forty percent of homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning), the situation is even more dire.

Once homeless, LGBTQ youth report a greater risk of victimization as a result of physical and emotional violence, abuse, and exploitation compared with their heterosexual peers. Unaware of the biological complexity of sex and gender, many people discriminate against transgender people on the basis of ethnic, religious and cultural values. Transgender youth face the most extreme threats to their safety due to a lack of acceptance. Additionally:

  • Eighty-six percent of LGBTQ students reported being verbally harassed at school due to their sexual orientation
  • Forty-four percent of LGBTQ students reported being physically harassed at school because of their sexual orientation
  • Twenty-two percent of LGBTQ  students reported having been physically attacked in school
  • Sixty percent of the students who were physically attacked in school said they did not report the incidents because they thought no one would care
  • Thirty-one percent of LGBTQ students who did report incidents of harassment and violence at school to staff claim they received no response

All too often, the service organizations that serve homeless youth fall woefully short of supporting LGBTQ homeless youth. Exacerbated by family dysfunction and high drop out rates, LGBTQ youth are disproportionately homeless due to overt discrimination when seeking alternative housing. Reports of widespread discrimination in federally funded institutions are often cited as a major contributing factor to the recent epidemic of homelessness among LGBTQ youth. Overt discrimination is not unheard of: in some instances signs are posted barring transgender homeless youth from accessing services, or they are kicked out of shelters when their transgender identity is discovered.

There are currently no federal programs specifically designed to meet the needs of gay and transgender homeless youth, and there are no protections in place to keep gay and transgender youth from being discriminated against while accessing federally funded homeless services. The Obama administration is aware of and making an effort to respond to the growing rates of LGBTQ youth homelessness, but there is a chasm between program recommendations and program implementation.

[This article is part 1 in a series of 3 articles on LGBTQ homeless youth. Part 1 identifies origins and challenges for LGBTQ homeless youth. Part 2 identifies federal, state, and local initiatives aimed at LGBTQ homeless youth. Part 3 summarizes best practices and offers a state & local approach based on best practices.]

Debilitating Fear and the Iron Dome

cartoon courtesy of http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/roiphe/2012/07/madeline_levine_s_teach_your_children_well_we_are_all_helicopter_parents.html

This morning on Here and Now, a radio show on NPR, invited guest speaker Lenore Skenazy, reality show host, to talk about issues in extreme helicopter parenting. In her show, World’s Worst Mom, Skenazy addresses a new level of fear in parents:  one young mother is so afraid that her children might get raped or kidnapped by strangers that she does not allow her 13 year old son to go to the men’s restroom alone at a mall.  She takes him with her into the women’s restroom.  She and her mother call her husband a “dummy” for letting their son go to the restroom alone.  She tells her children not to talk to strangers, because “strangers will kill you.”

Six years ago, Skenazy let her then-9 year old son to take the New York subway by himself.  Criticized as “America’s Worst Mom,” Skenazy blogged and eventually wrote a book about helicopter parenting and the need to give children a little more independence.  On the show, Skenazy talked about the different sources of fear, such as the media, traumatic personal experiences, and even the parents’ parents’ fear for the safety of their grandchildren.  There is so much news coverage about child abductions, rape, emotional abuse, that it is not very surprising that parents are now debilitated by fear for the safety of their children.

I admit it is difficult to ignore these news stories.  For instance, last week, I read about the story of Etan Patz, a little boy who went missing after he went to school alone for the first time, 30 years ago.  He was 6 years old.

“That was the last time I saw him. I watched him walk one block away,” Julie Patz testified at the murder trial of store clerk Pedro Hernandez, who’s accused of killing Etan. “I turned around and went back upstairs and that was the last time.”

I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that might happen to my daughter and resolved to take her to school myself until she is old enough to drive.  That resolve lasted about 2 days.

Fear can be helpful in parenting, such as making sure my child wears a helmet even when she rides her bike in my driveway, away from the street.  However, there is a point where fear is so debilitating, preventing parents from letting their children develop properly, causing their children serious emotional harm.  It is difficult to know when to stop and let go, there’s no doubt about that. There is no perfect way to be a parent.  We all have our own beliefs and strategies.  But we must remind ourselves that children don’t stay children forever, and they need to learn how to do things for themselves.

 

 

Kansas Legislation Aimed At Allowing Parents To Spank Harder Rejected

In Kansas currently spanking is allowed but it crosses the line and become child abuse when it leaves a mark. Kansas is one of a handful of states where corporal punishment is legal in schools. Democratic state representative, Gail Finney, aimed to expand that definition of corporal punishment by making it legal to spank and leave a mark for parents, teachers and other caregivers.

Finney says she proposed the law to “restore discipline to families” and protect parent’s rights.
The proposed law would legalize up to ten spankings by hand per child. The law would also allow parents to delegate others to spank their children and included no age limit on children who can be spanked.

Opponents say that one spank is too many and find Finney’s allocation of 10 strikes as completely arbitrary. Critics also allege that the bill attempts to legalize child abuse. Child abuse experts report that spanking is an outdated form of punishment and is less effective than time-outs.

Finney denied these accusations saying the bill was not intended to legalize child abuse but to establish consistent parental corporal punishment standards across Kansas. Britt Colle, the McPherson Deputy County Attorney who inspired Finney to draft the bill remarked, “This bill clarifies what parents can and cannot do. By defining what is legal, it also defines what is not.”

The bill was quickly rejected but has generated much debate on spanking, particularly in schools.