Biden looks to bolster protections for LGBTQ youth in foster care

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies during the House Committee hearing on Ways and Means hearing, March 28, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies during the House Committee hearing on Ways and Means hearing, March 28, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib

A new proposal by the Biden administration to bolster protections and support systems in foster care would require agencies to take steps to safeguard LGBTQ youth, paving the way for stronger federal regulation at a time when queer children have been targeted by legislative attacks in numerous states across the country.

One of the proposed regulations would require state welfare agencies to make sure LGBTQ youth are placed in foster homes where they would have access to necessary services and protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Caregivers would also be required to undergo training on how to meet the needs of LGBTQ youth.

The move is part of three rules proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) aimed to “better support children and families in the child welfare system.” The rules would also simplify the process for “kinship caregivers,” such as family members, to become foster care providers, and expand access to legal services for families and children at risk of entering foster care. 

Before getting finalized, proposed rules undergo a 60-day period during which people are allowed to issue public comments.

“This is a historic package that underlines the Biden-Harris Administration’s steadfast commitment to putting children’s well-being first,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a written statement.

LGBTQ youth make up a disproportionate share of individuals in foster care, representing 34.1% of all youth aged 13-20 living in the system in New York City, according to a 2021 report published by the New York City Administration for Children’s Services. As of December 2022 nearly 7,000 young people in NYC lived in foster care. 

“Because of family rejection and abuse, LGBTQI+ children are overrepresented in foster care where they face poor outcomes, including mistreatment and discrimination because of who they are,” the White House’s announcement states. 

The announcement comes after President Joe Biden’s June 2022 executive order calling on the federal government to tackle disparities facing LGBTQI+ youth face in the foster care system as well as the misuse of State and local child welfare agencies to target LGBTQI+ youth and families.

Kasey Suffredini, interim senior vice president of prevention at The Trevor Project, a national LGBTQ suicide prevention organization, praised the administration after the announcement.

“We are grateful to see this proposed rule that would strengthen our foster care systems,” he said. “It gives us hope to see an informed, data-driven effort to protect and support the health and well-being of LGBTQ young people.”

Acting Assistant Secretary Jeff Hild of the Administration for Children and Families underscored the importance of tailoring foster care to the needs of diverse communities. 

“We know that families come in all shapes and sizes and we understand the vital and unique care necessary to provide the best outcomes for families and children,” Hild said. 

The Biden administration’s efforts to protect youth in foster care come almost exactly one year after US District Judge Mae A. D’Agostino ruled that New York State’s Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) ran afoul of the First Amendment rights of New Hope Family Services — a non-governmental agency in Syracuse — when New Hope was given an ultimatum either to comply with OCFS’ non-discrimination rule or close down their adoption services.

Biden’s predecessor, meanwhile, actively sided with anti-LGBTQ foster care agencies by allowing them to reject same-sex prospective parents. Under the Trump administration, HHS gave Miracle Hill Ministries — a homophobic South Carolina-based foster agency with a record of banning LGBTQ employees — an exemption from a federal regulation barring discrimination in HHS programs and services.