The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Understanding the Role of Foster Family Acceptance On the Social, Academic, and Personal Experiences of Lgbtq Youth in the Foster Care System

Friday, January 17, 2014: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Marriott Riverwalk, Alamo Ballroom Salon C, 2nd Floor Elevator Level BR (San Antonio, TX)
Cluster: Child Welfare
Adam McCormick, PhD, University of Texas at El Paso
This qualitative study explores the role that foster family acceptance has on the social, academic, and personal experiences of LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system. LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system are at an increased risk of placement disruption, rejection, harassment and discrimination (Mallon, 2005 ). Furthermore, a seminal study assessing the relationship between family rejection and health outcomes found that LGBTQ youth from rejecting were significantly more likely to attempt suicide, have depressive symptoms, use illegal substances, and engage in risky sexual behaviors than youth from accepting families (Ryan et al., 2009). This is the first qualitative study to compare the experiences of LGBTQ youth from accepting foster families to those who identified their caretakers as rejecting. Method: Foster care alumni who identified as LGBTQ (n=33) were selected to participate in this study. Participants were recruited by local private child welfare agencies and transitional service providers. In total, 16 youth identified their longest lasting foster parent(s) as accepting and 17 as rejecting. In depth semi-structured interviews (60-90 minutes) were conducted. Interviews were audio recorded and data was analyzed using the qualitative data analysis software NVivo. Thematic analysis was used to identify patterns and themes to develop interpretations of the data. Anaysis was performed by two investigators using an incident-by-incident coding technique, followed by a focused coding process to identify larger themes (Charmaz, 2006). Results: The analysis provided insight into the role that foster family acceptance plays in the social, academic, and personal experiences of LGBTQ youth in foster care. Prominent reasons for improved academic performance included: a) placement and educational stability, b) larger peer networks, and c) greater sense of school connectedness and extracurricular involvement including Gay Straight Alliance groups. Prominent reasons for improved social support included: a) better relationships with caregivers, b) having a greater sense of appreciation for the differences of others and oneself, c) increased relationships with other LGBTQ youth and allies and d) improved confidence in one’s ability to solicit relationships. Prominent reasons for improved personal experiences included: a) greater sense of acceptance and comfort in placement, b) increased self-esteem, c) increased feelings of safety and security, and d) greater willingness to accept the faults and weaknesses of their caregivers. Conclusions and Implications: This study provides new insights into the significance of acceptance of LGBTQ youth. Furthermore, findings suggest that acceptance has a significant impact on LGBTQ youth’s self identify, self, esteem, safety, and social support. Similarly, youth with accepting foster families reported experiencing a greater sense of educational and placement stability, both of which are strong predictors of success for foster care alumni (Pecora, 2005).  Findings from this study have numerous practical and policy implications. Most notably, the positive experiences of youth with accepting foster families suggest that greater efforts to recruit affirming and accepting families is essential for the well-being of LGBTQ youth.
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