Methods: The second National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-being (NSCAW II) is a nationally representative dataset which includes permanency, behavioral health and educational outcomes for youth involved in the child welfare system. It is the first nationally representative dataset to include information on the sexual orientation of youth in care. Using a weighted complex samples design, these data were analyzed to identify the proportion of LGBQ youth involved in the child welfare system, as well as the characteristics and outcomes of these youth. Findings related to LGBQ youth were compared to those of non-LGB youth using Chi Square and the General Linear Model.
Results: Results indicate that approximately 23.3% of system involved youth identify as LGBQ, and 57% of these youth are youth of Color. Furthermore, LGBQ youth experience higher levels of clinical depression, trauma, substance misuse and externalizing behaviors than non-LGBQ peers, and are more likely to have interactions with the juvenile justice system, more likely to run a way, and are moved from initial placements more frequently at the request of their foster parents more frequently than heterosexual peers.
Conclusions and Implications: LGBQ youth, particularly LGBQ youth of Color are disproportionally overrepresented within child welfare systems nationwide and are at higher risk of experiencing negative mental health outcomes and placement disruptions than their non-LGBQ peers. These data can be used to make recommendations for policy and practice improvements to facilitate positive outcomes for this vulnerable population who may be impacted by stigma related to their sexual orientation once they become involved in the child welfare system. Identifying the proportion of LGBQ youth involved in child welfare nationwide is necessary to raise awareness of the disparities faced by LGBQ youth in care, and to advocate for policies and practices that work to reduce inequities related to sexual orientation within this system. Future editions of NSCAW should continue to collect data concerning sexual orientation of system involved youth and also begin gathering information about the gender identity and expression of youth in care.