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A State Program Interview on LGBT Youth Initiatives

Jacqueline M. Wilson, Program Operations Director, Louisiana CASA in Baton Rouge, LA

Louisiana CASA became certified by Lambda Legal as a master trainer for their “Moving the Margins” training curriculum. They are currently working to develop an LGBT youth hotline utilizing existing resources.

How did your work with LGBT youth start?

Our initiative started when the American Bar Association approached National CASA for a task force with their Open Doors: LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care project to look for pilot sites. Initially this started with the Jefferson CASA program. It did so well locally that we made this a statewide task force, seated under the Court Improvement Program.

Informally, this is an issue we’ve been working on since I saw Lambda Legal present at a CASA conference. I was working at a local program then. We started small with in-service articles and other small initiatives. One example was that we would meet the prospective foster parent and ask how they felt having an LGBT youth in the family (with permission of child and DSS, of course) so they wouldn’t get into a situation of being rejected again.

Why is this important in your community?

I think improving our services to LGBT youth is important in every community. It is a population that there is not a lot of awareness of nor a lot of resources available. There’s a need and if you look at some of the outcomes for these kids, it’s really disturbing. The suicide rate is incredibly high, their runaway rate is incredibly high and they are at increased risk for being trafficked. Even though they are a smaller percentage of the population – although there is no clear research – we believe that they are over represented in the foster care system.

What initiatives are you currently working on around LGBT youth?

Our primary initiative is our training where we use “Moving the Margins”. Lambda Legal did a master training session to certify 25 people as trainers in our state. We’ve so far trained about 800 professionals working with youth since we started two years ago. We’ve presented at all of the major conferences in Louisiana – foster parent, social worker, the Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana and the FINS conferences. We’ve managed to have a pretty high profile with a limited number of resources. Lambda Legal has given us permission to conduct a master training session so we can train more trainers.

We also have a joint task force with the Court Improvement Program and Louisiana CASA. We have a wide array of individuals who are represented – educational professionals, private service providers, DCFS, CASA, children’s attorneys, judges and the Office of Youth Development. It’s multidisciplinary group because we wanted to focus on all youth in out of home care. We meet quarterly and have an annual planning meeting. I’ve been really excited with what we’ve been able to accomplish with few resources. We have a very limited travel budget to go to trainings across the state and some printing. Lambda Legal has been a great resource by providing us with toolkits that are available on their website.

Within our task force, we have three teams:

  • The first is the training team which is outlined above.
  • The second is the resource team that is working on compiling a list of LGBT friendly or affirming service providers across the state and other resources. They are also working towards a LGBT hotline. When we started the task force we started thinking about pie-in-the-sky ideas, and the hotline came up. We already had an existing Kids Line hotline that Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana staff. We approached them with this idea and they said yes! We will be training their staff and providing them with resources, once finalized, so they will be able to make referrals for parents or youth who call in.
  • Our third group is the policy team. They’ve taken model policy, primarily from NY and Utah, and are currently working to adapt them to policies that could possibly be adopted here in Louisiana. We are starting small with policies around determining who are the accepting and affirming foster parents and providers and requiring training for all service providers.

How have these initiatives impacted the advocates and youth they serve?

From a state perspective, we actually haven’t been working directly with youth. But we have created awareness among the professionals and CASA volunteers working directly with the youth. And providing the introductory training has sparked a desire for more training. People now recognize the need and that their are resources out there to meet it.

What is your greatest achievement since starting these initiatives?

For us it was reaching over 800 professionals who work with youth directly in two years. That’s pretty amazing.

How did your community initially respond to your initiatives? Were you nervous with rolling it out? Were you surprised with any reactions?

I expected a lot more push back on this issue. A lot of people were unsure if Louisiana was ready for this conversation. My perspective was that it doesn’t matter if we’re ready. At some point we need to have this conversation and we need to help these kids.

I’m starting to get calls from other programs across the country about how to get started.

What advice would you have for other CASA/GAL programs interested in starting a LGBT initiative in their community?

  • Focus on the best interest of these youth and their outcomes. We aren’t working on any other LGBT issues or rights. It’s hard not to agree that this is important work when you know the risk factors that these youth are facing.
  • One of the best places people can go to get initial information is Lambda Legal.
  • Find your allies and bring all of them to the table. Find an ally with groups that might have resistance. I’ve been really pleasantly surprised with who our allies are.
  • Frame the conversation. We’re not trying to change anyone’s religious ideology or personal beliefs. All we are asking them to do is to be compassionate and to be supportive of these youth.

 

The links are provided as a source of information sharing. National CASA does not directly endorse any of these organizations.

 

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