The Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) has parted ways with a professor who authored a key study on LGBTQ youth in foster care after his decades-old research on pedophilia resurfaced.
The agency’s departure from Theo Sandfort, a professor at Columbia University, came after The Imprint exposed his research on pedophilia between 1979 and the early 1990s. Sandfort wrote that “children as young as age 10 can be in consensual sexual relationships with adults decades older and should not always be labeled as ‘victims.'”
Sandfort was the author behind a recent survey that found LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system and face greater hardships than non-LGBTQ youth. Because of this, queer young people are more at risk for depression.
In a statement to Gay City News, ACS doubled down on their decision to fire Sandfort.
“The City of New York has zero tolerance for pedophilia,” the agency said. “The health, safety, and well-being of children is our top priority, and those who endanger children are contrary to the values of our city. Our work with Dr. Sandfort began through an agreement with Columbia University over five years ago and current ACS leadership was not aware of these previous writings until after the survey findings were released. ACS has severed all ties with Dr. Sandfort. We have reviewed and strengthened our vetting process for engaging researchers and consultants working on research projects with ACS.”
According to The Imprint, Sandfort’s findings from the May 1984 issue of the Journal of Sex Research suggested that the Netherlands should limit their age-of-consent laws to allow “the right to accept as well as to refuse the sexual initiative of an adult.”
In a statement to the Imprint, Sandfort opposed the criticism. He also defended the importance of his latest work.
“Some individuals have tried to discredit this study on social media by pointing to papers based on my earlier academic research on pedophilia, conducted in the Netherlands more than 25 years ago,” Sandfort wrote in a statement to the Imprint. “I have never advocated for adult-child sexual interactions, and I have never promoted or participated in such activities.”
Sandfort heads the postdoctoral training program at Columbia University’s HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies, where much of his research focuses on public health issues that impact the LGBTQ community. Over the years, Sandfort has authored multiple international studies on HIV transmission among men who have sex with men as well as transgender individuals.
Sandfort’s foster care study, meanwhile, revealed racial disparities showing Black queer and trans kids make up most of the city’s ACS cases. His work also noted that LGBTQ children in foster care are under more scrutiny for their gender expression, face more run-ins with police, and are more likely to be sent to a group home rather than receive family care.
The study’s results prompted ACS to create a three-pronged action plan to improve the lives of LGBTQ youth. The plan calls for reducing unnecessary admissions of LGBTQ youth in foster care, increasing placements with relatives and reducing group home placements, and working to improve the well-being of queer foster kids.
According to the agency, they have started working on the action plan but have yet to begin conducting research. In the meantime, ACS is making updates to its vetting system. This includes reviewing all prior published research of their current and future researchers, speaking to professional references, and reviewing social media accounts.