At the same time the Trump administration blew off concerns of trans advocates and moved ahead with the dismantling of sex discrimination protections under Title IX, the president’s team finalized yet another rule — this time targeting homeless queer youth.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Administration for Children and Families finalized a rule ending the collection of data regarding sexual orientation, adding another twist to the administration’s fixation on targeting LGBTQ rights in foster care and adoption. Early last year, HHS granted taxpayer-funded foster care agencies the right to reject same-sex prospective parents in South Carolina, while the State Department has undercut same-sex marriage and immigration laws by rejecting citizenship for some children of same-sex parents born outside the US.
The new regulations terminate an Obama era provision that required states to ask children in the foster care system, as well as foster and adoptive parents, about their sexual orientation. The data collection was primarily intended to paint a broader picture about demographic information within the welfare system and steer the allocation of federal funding, but in some states, it was also used to help better pair a foster child to an appropriate home.
The information is collected as part of the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), which is also used to gather data about other demographics.
The administration on May 8 unveiled a 103-page document detailing and justifying the new data collection cuts, bragging that the reduction in data collection will save the country $46 million — though it did not elaborate on how that price tag was determined. The document also asserted that the changes will prevent the “unnecessary diversion of child welfare agency resources.”
The changes are just part of a broader rule proposed last year that sought to scale down foster care-related data collection pertaining to a range of demographics, including Native American youth. Foster care data collection is being reduced by one-third overall under the new regulations, but data collection regarding sexual orientation is ending entirely.
Advocacy groups and elected officials condemned the move and blasted the administration for refusing to tabulate vital information that would improve the placement and care of vulnerable queer youth who are disproportionately represented in the foster care system. Data collection is driving force in demonstrating the necessity of funding for special social services, in this case programs and policies to produce better outcomes for homeless LGBTQ minors
“It is outrageous that during National Foster Care Month, HHS is abdicating its statutory responsibilities to promote the safety and well-being of LGBTQ foster youth,” said Julie Kruse, director of federal policy at Family Equality, which works to advance equality for LGBTQ families. “States, tribes, and agencies cannot improve care and outcomes for these youth if they do not have data to measure their efforts. This is especially painful at a time when many young people who aged out of foster care without a family, including many LGBTQ youth, are losing student housing and employment due to the COVID-19 crisis.”
Representatives of Children’s Rights, an organization dedicated to children swept up in the immigration, juvenile justice, and child welfare systems, were just as outraged after the rule was announced. The legal team at Children’s Rights was in contact with the administration and had begged the White House to reconsider the rule.
“Stripping sexual orientation data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System is a huge mistake that will harm the children we serve,” Children’s Rights lead counsel Christina Wilson Remlin said in a written statement. “Thorough and accurate data is critical to ensuring that safety, permanency, and well-being remain the top priorities for children in out-of-home care. This latest onslaught against facts puts politics over the best interests of children and makes LGBTQ youth and their outcomes invisible.”
Out gay Congressmember Sean Patrick Maloney of New York and Congresmember Angie Craig of Minnesota, the first out lesbian mother elected to Congress, also tore into the administration’s new regulations. Maloney believes the rule will create barriers that run against the entire purpose of foster care and adoption.
“Our goal should always be to find loving and supportive homes for kids in need,” Maloney, who has raised three children, said in a written statement. “This rule change is completely unacceptable. It will harm the safety and wellbeing of innocent children who are in our foster care system and open the door to discrimination against parents who are ready, willing, and able to provide a supportive home.”
Craig, meanwhile, got personal and tied the issue to her own experience raising children.
“Every child deserves a safe and loving home, but unfortunately LGBTQ children and parents face significant discrimination in the foster care and adoption system,” said Craig, who has four sons. “As a mother, and as someone who faced adoption discrimination for being a part of the LGBTQ community two decades ago, I strongly denounce Secretary [Alex] Azar’s rule change, and ask him to stand with children across the country who are seeking safe, supportive homes free from discrimination.”
The administration is giving states two years to phase in the new changes. Neither HHS nor the Administration for Families and Children responded to questions from Gay City News by deadline on May 11.
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