Georgia has no LGBT, trans-protective child welfare policy, report finds

A new report pits Georgia at the bottom when it comes to having LGBT-protective child welfare policy.

Georgia is one of the lowest-ranking states in child welfare policy in terms of offering explicit protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, sex or gender. Also ranking low in that category were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Carolina and Virginia. On the plus side, though, Georgia does have protections for sexual orientation and gender identity protections in its juvenile justice system.

“Safe Havens: Closing the Gap Between Recommended Practice and Reality for Transgender and Gender-Expansive Youth in Out-of-Home Care,” co-authored by Lambda Legal, Children’s Rights and the Center for the Study of Social Policy, is the first comprehensive analysis of the “troubling lack of explicit laws and policies” protecting transgender, gender expansive and gender-nonconforming youth in child welfare, juvenile justice and homeless youth systems.

“Too often, out-of-home systems of care that are supposed to protect transgender and gender expansive children and youth in their care end up replicating the same harmful discrimination or abuse that these young people experienced outside of these systems,” Bill Bettencourt, the director of the getR.E.A.L Initiative, said in the news release. “Policy and practice reform that emphasize healthy sexual orientation and gender identity development is needed to ensure that all young people are supported and affirmed throughout their involvement with out-of-home systems.”

According to Lambda Legal, child advocates and experts have long observed that LGBT youth, particularly trans and gender-nonconforming youth, are dramatically overrepresented in these systems, and often face harsh treatment and discrimination.

“It’s critical for policymakers, administrators and service providers as they do essential reform work to these systems to listen to the voices of [trans and gender-nonconforming] youth to ensure their safety and well-being,” report co-author Currey Cook said in a Lambda Legal news release. “[These] youth face unique challenges when they come into contact with out-of-home care systems because most placements and facilities are sex-specific and too often don’t affirm their identities.”

New York and California are the only states with comprehensive protections in place for LGBT and gender-nonconforming youth across all of their out-of-home care systems, the report found, and both Alaska and North Carolina are the polar opposite, with no such protections.

The report suggests ways to eliminate these barriers, including adopting comprehensive and explicit policy protections, and engaging youth to ensure their voices are part of policy development.

“Too many young people are not sleeping safely at night, despite the fact that our Constitution enshrines the right to be protected and treated equally in state care,” co-author Christina Remlin said in the news release. “It is our hope that states, agencies and providers will embrace the wise counsel of [trans and gender-nonconforming] youth themselves and heed the call to prioritize their safety and well-being.”

Read the full “Safe Havens” report below.