Between 3 and 8 percent of children in the United States identify as LGBTQ, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA. But for children in foster care, the number is as high as 19 percent.

Children with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are at greater risk for issues such as physical and emotional abuse, violence, bullying and harassment, attempted suicide and drug use.

A partnership between Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University and several community partners seeks to address those issues.

Last fall, the Administration of Children and Families approved a four-year, $1 million grant to develop programs and best practices that improve the lives of LGBTQ youth in foster care.

Work has recently begun.

“This project is so unique because we’re doing the work and researching at the same time,” said Dana M. Prince, an assistant professor at the Mandel School, and site evaluator on the project. “A research-practice gap is common. This project allows us to make real change, while using this as a learning opportunity.”

The goal is to improve the children’s well-being—which includes the chances of finding an affirming stable (and permanent) family.

There are more than 2,000 Cuyahoga County children in foster care—the highest levels since 2011— according to county estimates.

“When you’re in foster care, it’s sort of a pile-on,” Prince said. “One goal of the research interventions is to help youth, caregivers, and family members increase awareness and knowledge about what it is to identify as LGBTQ.

“By strengthening relationships we hope to increase all-around family acceptance.”

The more that researchers know, the more they can help. Local social workers will collect and compile the data.

“There’s a lot of fear and mistrust sharing that information,” Prince said. “We don’t really have a policy in place or a way to ask children and youth in foster care about their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. We hope to change that.”


For more information, contact Colin McEwen at colin.mcewen@case.edu