Foster care agencies report struggles when placing LGBT+ youth
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Having to go into foster care is often a stressful and traumatic experience for a child. Sometimes, that experience is made worse when agencies can’t find a place for them to stay.
Having spent the majority of his childhood in the foster care system, Lou Elwood knows all too well the importance of a supportive home.
“I’m just better overall in every area, I guess,” said Elwood. “They helped me a lot with my emotional regulation and being able to talk to people when I have an issue rather than just bottling it up and letting it come out in a bad way.”
That wasn’t always his life, though. Elwood, who came out as transgender when he was 13, has been through several homes that weren’t as accepting.
“We got the whole ‘going to hell for being queer’ like every other day,” said Elwood. “When they would start talking about Sodom and Gomorrah, which was their favorite Bible passage, I would just get angry and frustrated.”
That’s a problem foster care agencies are dealing with across southeastern North Carolina. While foster parents may be willing to give a child a place to stay, they’re not always the best place for that child to thrive.
“Obviously, if we know that information when the child comes through, that they might be LGBT or transgender, we try to match them up to a parent that’s going to be accepting and supportive,” said Christy Karas, a foster care coordinator for ACI-Dungarvin. “That’s where we’re having a little bit of a struggle.”
In September, Dungarvin had two transgender kids looking for placement. Unfortunately, the agency wasn’t able to find a parent within its services to take them in.
“It’s heartbreaking, honestly,” said Karas. “Sometimes, kids might have to sleep in the CPS office or they might have to go to a shelter if the shelter has room but they’re staying at the CPS office for some days on end.”
Elwood says he has lived in many homes since first entering the system at a young age after his mother’s death. Group homes were less than ideal due to bullying, conflicting religious beliefs and overwhelmed caretakers. It wasn’t until high school that he found his final foster home.
“[My foster mom] was one of my English teachers in school,” said Elwood, describing the moment he knew his life would be different. “The first interaction I had with her was her asking my pronouns.”
Another thing Elwood says his foster parents did that made a difference was allowing him to make mistakes to then learn from them. He remembers one day after moving in, he was angry about something and had an outburst. Instead of punishing him, the couple helped him learn to work through those emotions.
“It was just like, ‘you can express emotions here,’ which was something that I’d never been able to do,” said Elwood. “In foster care, you’re kind of expected to be the perfect kid. Most normal kids can have those times when they lose control of themselves because it’s a growing thing. Foster kids aren’t afforded that ability. You’ll just get rehomed.”
To Elwood, a good foster parent understands kids in the system need that same level of grace. He also thinks it would be good for parents to understand trauma and the effect it has on children.
For transgender kids specifically, Elwood says it’s helpful for parents and foster parents to be well-versed in LGBTQ rights. In the past, adults in his life had to stand up for him to be allowed to use the correct restroom. It was also helpful to have someone guide him through the process of legal gender and name changes.
Karas says foster care agencies across the country need more foster families like Elwood’s. Looking back, Elwood says life would have been much different if it weren’t for their support.
“I would probably have died at some point,” said Elwood. “I would not have gotten into Chapel Hill, I’ll tell you that much. They helped me a lot with keeping my grades up and mental health and all that.”
Those interested in fostering a child must be 21 or older and willing to pass certification classes before they can be placed with them.
Copyright 2022 WECT. All rights reserved.