Danny entered foster care at age 3 when he and his siblings were removed from their mother’s care due to abuse. During the next 17 years, Danny experienced a multitude of foster family placements, including time in a residential group facility and psychiatric hospitals.
During this time, Danny spent six and a half years with one foster family, a single parent. He struggled there because she was unable to accept his sexual identification. “She tried to get me to be girly when that wasn’t me and it wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t feel like she accepted me,” shared Danny.
Unfortunately, this resulted in Danny receiving care at a psychiatric hospital. When he was scheduled for release, Danny made the decision that he didn’t want to go back with that foster family. “I couldn’t go back to that same person because she wasn’t accepting of me and my gender. I can’t help who I am.”
According to DCFS, there are nearly 17,500 children in Illinois’ child welfare system. Research has shown that LGBTQ youth are over-represented in the foster care system and also face disparities, including being rejected or mistreated because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
The unacceptable reality is that LGBTQ youth—after facing the trauma that brought them into care—too often experience additional trauma from a foster care system that subjects them to further discrimination.
Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois has made an agency-wide commitment to being WIDE, which stands for Welcoming, Inclusive, Diverse and Equitable. As part of this initiative, LCFS engaged with All Children—All Families (ACAF), a project of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, to improve its practice with youth and families by promoting LGBTQ-inclusive policies and affirming practices.
Recently, ACAF honored LCFS with their 2019 “Innovator in Supporting and Serving LGBTQ Youth & Families Seal of Recognition.” LCFS is the only private child welfare agency in Illinois being recognized at this top tier.
“LCFS is very proud to receive the Innovator Seal from ACAF. It is core to our values that all people that come to us for service know that they are welcome, we value them, and we are privileged to partner in service with them,” said LCFS President and CEO Mike Bertrand.
In recent years, LCFS leadership made the commitment to embrace inclusion and diversity because it’s best to be of service to all children and families. As part of the process, the agency updated its policies to prohibit all discrimination.
In addition, widespread changes were made within the organization’s culture, practices and training in order to transform into a welcoming agency.
“We have gained so much, most importantly, a supportive and affirming environment for children and youth whose sexual orientation and gender identity and expression have been rejected previously by so many,” shared LCFS Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Beverly Jones.
While LCFS leadership are proud of the work that has been done to receive the seal, they understand that this is just the beginning and there is more work to be done. Bertrand explains that, “LCFS is committed to being an active part of a just society and we encourage others to join us in making a commitment to ensure we are welcoming to all.”
Today, Danny is in a new home with his LCFS licensed foster mom Karen. “It is the first time I have felt completely accepted,” said Danny. “She doesn’t judge me and accepts me for me.”
Together LCFS staff and Karen have helped to support Danny and provide him with an affirming home. “I think that all foster families out there should give youth who are from the LGBTQ community a try,” explained Danny. “You shouldn’t judge someone based on what they like. They still deserve to be in a good home.”