At BPAR we recognize, respect and honor diversity and inclusion. All of our clients are touched by adoption in some way and are working on and through the joys and complexities that arise on this journey. In addition to working with the specific emotional challenges related to adoption (i.e. race, loss, identity, rejection), many of our clients are facing the additional difficulty of exploring their gender and sexual identity. In honor of our clients, our mission to educate the community on adoption awareness, and Pride month, this blog will focus on discussing the connection between adoption and the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning) community.
Research is beginning to show that there is a direct correlation between adoption and SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Gender Expression) issues. Here are some of the facts:
- Statistics show that somewhere between 1 in 5 and 1 in 6 youth in the foster care system identify as LGBTQ+¹
- 19 percent of the surveyed youth in foster care identified as LGBTQ+.²
- Research suggests that adopted kids and teens are overrepresented in gender speciality clinics.
Some of the potential factors contributing to this overrepresentation are that adoptive parents may have access to resources and may be more likely to seek out support for their child. Older adopted youth may have been rejected by their birth family because of their gender issues. Identity exploration is already a very common issue in adoption, which may lead to children exploring this aspect of their lives sooner.²
Given the correlation between adoption and LGBTQ, it is vital for foster and adoptive parents, social workers, mental health workers, teachers and other individuals who work with fostered or adopted children and teens to be aware of the challenges, needs and best practices for working with SOGIE issues. According to Dr. Laura Anderson², without support LGBTQ kids are:
- 8 times more likely to attempt suicide
- 6 times more likely to experience depression and anxiety
- 3 times more likely to struggle with substance use
- 3 times more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behavior
These statistics are alarming. The good news is that the biggest predictor of a child doing well is the amount of family support that they receive. When a child has their emotional and physical needs attended to, they are more likely to have higher self-esteem, feel more connected, hold hope for the future, report that they want to have their own family someday, and have better overall health.
What can you do to support LGBTQ+ kids?
- Create a safe SOGIE environment: Become familiar with the SOGIE language so your child/teen or client feels comfortable coming to you for support. Educate yourself around the laws as well as specific language and SOGIE issues. This will allow you to engage in safe and respectful conversations.
- Get support from LGBTQ+ competent therapists: SOGIE issues are complex. Even loving and supportive families can struggle with SOGIE. Feelings of guilt and grief are normal. If you and/or your child are feeling overwhelmed or uncertain, it is important to find a competent therapist who can help navigate and support you and your child. SOGIE issues are specific and require a specific competence, so make sure you are selective in who you see.
- Advocate at schools and in the community: “Research shows that students who are perceived as gay, lesbian, or transgender (whether or not they are) are much more likely to experience bullying than students who are not.”³ It is important to work with your child’s school to understand their anti-bullying policies. You can also educate them about your child’s needs and strategize together ways to help them feel safe at school.
- Always “Safety First:” Allow your child/teen to have access to gender neutral toys and clothes and provide them room for exploration. However, always remember that safety comes first. Some communities and environments can be dangerous for individuals with SOGIE issues. Talk to your child about this and do the best you can to anticipate challenges. Have a game plan around how to get out of difficult situations and identify safe places to go if needed. Discuss specific language to use when talking to others about SOGIE.
No child or teen should have to navigate these challenges alone. For kids who are in foster care and don’t have a safe and supportive family to emotionally support them, it’s vital that social workers, foster parents and other childcare workers become LGBTQ+ educated and competent. We need to continue to help connect these children/teens to safe adoptive families and/or help them connect with safe members of their birth family who will continue to support them.
Written by Kelly DiBenedetto
Boston Post Adoption Resources
More information and resources on SOGIE:
https://fenwayhealth.org/ (local specialty clinical)
Sex: The biological sex we are assigned at birth.
Gender Identity: Our Internal felt sense of whether we are male, female, both or neither.
Gender Expression: How we express our internal felt sense of gender to the world. This can change daily but it is typically shown through clothing, hairstyles, and physical presentation.
Sexual Orientation: Who a person is attracted to romantically and sexually.
Gender expansive: When a persons behavior, interests or clothing are different from what is expected from the sex they were assigned at birth.
Cisgender: When your internal sense of gender matches your sex assigned at birth.
Transgender: When your sex assigned at birth does not align with your internal felt sense of gender.
Non-binary: A broader term for gender identities that are not exclusively feminine and masculine.
The Gender Unicorn infographic is another helpful tool at http://transstudent.org/gender
¹ North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) 2019, Issue 1 Adopttalk, Issue 1, pg. 3
² Referenced by Dr. Laura Anderson in her online training Supporting Gender Expansive and LGBTQ+ Youth In the World of Foster Care and Adoption
³ Adopttalk Issue 1, pg. 6, paragraph 3