7. Protecting Youth from Bias and Discrimination

Focus Areas

❒ Specific behaviors that would infringe upon youths’ rights and what those rights are;
❒ A clear prohibition on the imposition of personal or religious beliefs about reproductive and sexual health on youth or influence on their treatment options;
❒ The right of youth to sexual, reproductive, gender-affirming care of their choice;
❒ A procedure for supervisors to document and respond to staff when personal bias or religious beliefs are imposed or when a complaint is filed;
❒ A clear procedure for the complaint process and staff expectations;
❒ The rights of LGBTQ youth;
❒ Definitions of SOGIE;
❒ A policy on using youth’s preferred name and pronouns;
❒ Examples of common language pitfalls that can be harmful to youth and staff relationships;
❒ A restroom policy on gender;
❒ A room assignment policy on gender; and
❒ Staff protocol for responding to bullying and discrimination witnessed in the home.

Establish a protocol for staff to share and discuss youth rights when youth first enter the program and at a regular frequency, no less than every six months.
Providers should post the “Know Your Rights” brochure in a prominent area where youth will see the document frequently. They should identify who will review the youth’s rights when they enter the home and on an ongoing basis, no less than every six months. As part of the review of rights, youth should be advised that they have a right to file complaints against the GH/STRTP and/or staff with Community Care Licensing or the Office of
the Foster Care Ombudsperson without fear or retaliation. The protocol should specify that if and when a youth’s rights are violated, staff should discuss the matter with the youth and conduct appropriate followup,
which may include assisting the youth in filing a complaint and correcting the action.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth are two times more likely to be placed in GH and STRTPs. Staff must refer to youth by their preferred name and gender pronoun as required in the regulations. Organizations should ensure staff are well-informed of youth rights related to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE), and best practices for providing adequate care to LGBTQ youth in out-of-home care.

Prohibit staff members from imposing their personal feelings or religious beliefs about reproductive and sexual health on youth or influencing the treatment choice of youth in compliance with Licensing Standards .
Organizational policies should be explicit that staff members
may not impose their personal feelings or religious beliefs about reproductive and sexual health, or the beliefs of the organization’s board or leadership, on youth. This includes prohibiting staff members from requiring or asking youth to practice abstinence and prohibiting staff from deterring or preventing youth from their right to an abortion or emergency contraception . While abstinence from sexual intercourse can be a healthy choice, programs promoting abstinence-only approaches are
scientifically and ethically problematic and ineffective. Licensing Standards specify that information about safe sex is required to be provided to youth in care, and California law prohibits abstinence-only education .

The right to choose an abortion is protected by both federal and California state law, with California’s laws ensuring access to abortion services even if federal protections were overturned. The state supreme court specifically struck down a law in 1997 requiring either parental consent or a judicial waiver before a minor could obtain abortion care . Staff should confirm their willingness to uphold the right of youth to sexual, reproductive, gender-affirming care of their choice and understand the organizational risks for infringing on youth rights. While some organizations may provide programming or services with private funding or may be religiously affiliated, organizations receiving public foster care funding to operate an STRTP, Group Home or any other foster care placement are put at risk of formal complaints if staff impose their personal beliefs on the youth served by the Organization .

Permit youth to share a bedroom or use a bathroom consistent with
their gender identity regardless of the gender or sex listed on the court, child welfare, or probation report, in compliance with Interim Licensing Standards.

State law requires that when youth are placed in out-of-home care, they are placed according to their gender identity, regardless of the gender or sex listed in their court, child welfare, medical, or vital records.
The Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity & Expression Resource Guide for Children’s Residential Providers and Caregivers from CDSS further clarifies the law and best practice.

Prohibit discrimination or harassment on the basis of actual or perceived race, ethnic group identification, ancestry, national origin, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, mental or physical disability, or HIV status.
Fifty-six percent of LGBTQ youth in out-of-home care spent some time without stable housing because they felt safer on the streets than in group or foster homes, according to a 2014 report out of Los Angeles County .
Fostering a safe, welcoming, and positive environment can help youth create stable supports and improve their education and health outcomes. Requiring staff to respond immediately to any bullying or harassment by other youth in the residence will help maintain safety and trust in the program.

Tips for Protecting Youth from Bias and Discrimination

A. Hiring practices are critical in order to welcome staff who reflect and respect the youth they are hired to serve, and to screen out employment candidates who would be uncomfortable upholding
the sexual and reproductive rights of youth or serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender non-conforming youth
.
Strategies may include recruitment and outreach approaches, a positive
healthy sexual development and gender-affirming statement in the job description, incorporating a sexual health scenario or conversation into the job interview process, and including a written statement in onboarding training or the program statement of the organization. Recruiting and
hiring staff who are aware of the role of racism and homophobia in the child welfare system and are committed to improving the field, who are reflective of the racial and ethnic background of youth served, people with lived experience, and people who identify as LGBTQ can contribute to a system of care that attends to and is reflective of youth in care.

B. Acknowledging racism and its role in health care service access and delivery can help youth navigate the system, problem solve, and receive timely care.
If staff acknowledge that racism impacts health care, they are more likely to support youth in accessing care and ensuring quality.

C. Equipping staff with the information they need such as definitions, common misconceptions, and how caregivers can support LGBTQ youth will improve communication.
Organizations can access vetted resources for youth and staff from several sources, including the Child Welfare Information Gateway and CDSS. (see the resource list at the end f this course)

D. Using appropriate gender pronouns and inclusive language with youth and staff creates a safe and positive environment.
Staff can practice having conversations with appropriate language and avoid pitfalls. Terms staff use can convey bias and some terms should not be used at all. The SOGIE Resource Guide for Children’s Residential Providers and Caregivers has a glossary of terms and definitions to support staff in communicating effectively with youth in their care (see the resource list at the end f this course)

E. Connecting youth to local LGBTQ centers and events, to their school’s Gay Straight Alliance, and to youth groups that reflect and respect their identity can foster positive self-identity and build community. Staff should be versed on local LGBTQ centers and events, and any local campus groups, such as the Gay Straight Alliance. These entities can also be resources for potential guest speakers and trainers to help educate youth and staff.

F. Assisting youth in filing a complaint can help build trust and self-advocacy skills of youth.
Youth have the right to contact the Community Care Licensing Division of the State Department of Social Services or the State Foster Care Ombudsperson regarding violations of rights, to speak to representatives of these offices confidentially, and to be free from threats or punishment for making complaints.