While it is widely known that LGBTQ youth are disproportionately affected by homelessness, they too are overly represented in the children’s welfare system. According to a recent study released by the Williams Institute, 1 in 5 youth in foster care identify as LGBTQ. In Michigan, the Department of Health & Human Services estimates that 13,000 youth are in the State’s foster care at any given time.
While there is evidence to support specialized services for LGBTQ youth in the children’s welfare system, Ruth’s House, Ruth Ellis Center’s Intensive Treatment Unit for youth ages 12-17 is one of only three licensed and contracted residential foster care facilities specifically for LGBTQ youth in the United States. Ruth’s House serves young people in the foster care system by providing services in a home-like setting that meets the individual needs of the youth while they are in care. With an increase of transgender and gender non-conforming youth entering Michigan’s foster care, the State has granted Ruth Ellis Center an additional license to accommodate up to 9 youth at any given time, an increase from 5.
Available research has estimated that LGBT youths represent 5 percent to 7 percent of the nation’s overall youth population, but they compose 13 percent to 15 percent of those currently in the juvenile justice system.
Unfortunately, we are witnessing the tragedy of an “identity-to-prison” pipeline. Increasingly, young people’s reactions to bullying, violence and rejection based on sexual orientation or gender identity are criminalized in schools and families. The result is increased school truancy, suspensions and expulsions and LGBTQ young people are placed in detention at disproportional rates.
A new partnership with Assured Family Services (formerly the Juvenile Assessment Center) seeks to address these critical issues. Under the Leadership of Cyndi Smith (2015 Ruth’s Angel Award Winner), CEO of Assured Family Services, the Ruth Ellis Center will provide training and consultation to juvenile justice and court officials and direct service staff. Families in conflict over a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity will be referred to the Ruth Ellis Center for specialized services to help the family reduce rejecting behaviors and increase safety and well-being at home BEFORE the child gets kicked out, runs away or ends up in the juvenile justice system.
In an effort to help families support their LGBTQ children and reduce the number of youth who runaway, get kicked out or end up in the Child Welfare or Juvenile Justice systems, Ruth Ellis Center launched a new pilot program in partnership with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Child Protective Services and the Andrus Family Fund. This intensive effort to help families stay together is the first of its kind in the country.
In collaboration with Dr. Caitlin Ryan and the Family Acceptance Project, more than 300 Child Protective Service Investigators, social workers and educators have been trained to identify cases where a child’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression may be factors in abuse and neglect investigations. Families are being referred to Ruth Ellis Center’s Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) program for up to 13 months of intensive support services. Eleven families are currently working with Ruth Ellis Center since the pilot’s launch in October, far exceeding the projected outcomes for the first quarter of the pilot.
This new partnership will integrate the Family Acceptance Project’s (FAP) family acceptance and support approach for wellness, prevention and care for LGBT children and adolescents across systems with Detroit’s Ruth Ellis Center as the hub for this implementation work. We are developing the protocols to implement FAP’s family intervention strategies to prevent risk and promote well-being for LGBT children, youth and families in multiple settings within the Ruth Ellis Center service array, including primary care / behavioral health, out-of-home care and school-based care. We will implement FAP’s model systematically across disciplines and systems of care in the community as well. The first focused implementation initiative is in Family Group Decision Making (FGDM).