Author Archives: Ben Figueroa

LGBTQI+ in the Foster Care System

LGBTQI+ Youth in the Foster Care System

Pride Month is about recognizing our collective humanity, where everyone is treated equally no matter how the people in our communities identify. At CASA of NWA, if there is a child in need, we will have a volunteer ready to advocate for their best interest, no matter what. The way in which any particular youth identifies simply does not negate the support and compassion kids need to grow, let alone their right to basic needs and access to resources.

LGBTQI+ youth enter foster care for similar reasons as other children and youth; regardless of the situation, the birth families or legal guardian were not able to provide a safe and stable home for the child. The exception is often the rejection LGBTQI+ youth face from their families. They are especially at risk of abuse and neglect, often after disclosing their identity or questioning status to their family members, which can lead to alternative placements or homelessness.

LGBTQI+ are also overrepresented in foster care. This means that the percentage of youth in foster care that identify as LGBTQI+ is larger than the percentage of LGBTQI+ youth in the general youth population. A study in 2019 found youth that identify as LGB or unsure made up 11.2% of 12–18-year-olds, compared to 30.4% of the same group in foster care. LGBTQI+ are also more likely to be victimized or abused sometimes within the foster care system as well, which is further associated with poorer functional outcomes and a lack of permanency. LGBTQI+ are also often faced with verbal and/or physical violence because of their gender identity, which can then lead to multiple disrupted placements, compounding the trauma of navigating foster care in the first place.

This is precisely the reason our advocates are there by every child’s side—so they can look out for  these issues and make sure their child’s needs are met and can work toward finding permanency. Not only do we try to recruit volunteers that identify as LGBTQI+ so we can better pair them with similar youth, but we also provide LGBTQI+ training to all our advocates throughout the year.

To show our support this pride month, we have compiled a list of both community and national resources for LGBTQI+ members, as well as others who’d like to learn more!

Local NWA Resources

Nationwide Resources

Transgender/Intersex

Youth

Academic/Government

 

Sources Used Here

  1. Baums, et. al (2019)- LGBTQ Youth in Unstable Housing and Foster Care- American Academy of Pediatrics
  2. LGBTQ+ Youth in Child Welfare System- youth.gov
  3. LGBTQ Youth in the Foster Care System
  4. Profiles in Pride– Compiled many of the sources above

Foster Care And Five Things You Can Do

Foster Care

And Five Things You Can Do

CASA of NWA

May 2022 


In observance of National Foster Care Month in May, we at CASA would like to share why and how foster care matters to us. Strengthening relative and kinship foster families is incredibly important in the work we do, and we aim to empower children by providing a dedicated voice to guide and advocate for them. Above all, we prioritize the safety and security of our kids entering, transitioning, or navigating foster care and tumultuous times in the family.  

Few organizations share the unique opportunity of serving such a vulnerable population of children in such a direct way; it’s in our name: C.A.S.A. Court Appointed Special Advocate– meaning we are assigned by court order in juvenile cases involving children facing abuse and neglect. 

What’s especially unique is that not only are our CASAs made up entirely of volunteers, but our organization revolves around providing professional training and development to these volunteers so that we can best equip them to deal with any case, for any and every child. A CASA’s incentive to volunteer their time comes from knowing that each minute they spend with a child is a minute that can be used to improve their situation, and ultimately their life.  

Getting to Foster Care in Arkansas 

If there was one key takeaway about how placement works, it’s that reunification is the number one priority, if possible. This goes for the county judges and DHS, as well as CASA. Judges will deliberate based on a number of different records, documents, and testimonies during adjudication, and the DHS caseworker works tirelessly to understand as many elements of each case as they can-and they have a lot.  

Last year, almost 27,000 investigations took place for abuse and neglect in Arkansas, or around 4,500 per month on average. In our area—made up of Benton, Washington, Carroll, and Madison Counties— this number was almost 5,000 investigations. The majority (54%) of case plan goals in the state work toward reunification, with the next closest being adoption at 24%.  

The process to determine whether termination of parental rights (TPR) is necessary is never an easy one; it is difficult and heavy on everyone involved yet calculated to be in the absolute best interest of the child.   

Finding Permanency  

Family separation can be a significant source of trauma, which is why the next best alternative to reunification would be for a child to receive care from relatives or kinships. Children who are placed with kinship caregivers overall experience less placement disruption, fewer behavioral problems, and fewer mental health disorders. Family and kinship foster care can also serve to create more stability by engaging in shared culture and language. 

In our area, nearly 46% of the cases that our CASAs worked on resulted in reunification with the parent(s). In addition to that, another 21% of our cases found custody with a relative/kinship home. In the state of Arkansas in 2021, 43% are reunified with their parent(s), while 21% of children are formally adopted by relatives.   

While most children will be either reunified with their parent(s) or will find care with family or kinship, this process is far from simple or timely; it can take years depending on the circumstances. For example, of the 982 children in foster care in Northwest Arkansas in 2021, more than 500 of them were in care for over a year, and another 200 for over two years. In the state, it can take an average of 29.1 months (about 2 and a half years) of staying in care before finalizing an adoption, and there are between two and three hundred children that age out of foster care each year.  

Adoptions are always special days for CASA volunteers. By this point, they have endured termination hearings, disclosure meetings with potential adoptive families, and likely difficult conversations if pre-adoptive placements fail. You can only imagine what it would be like to be in court the day your child finds their forever home. 


Is There Anything I Can Do for Foster Care in Arkansas?  

Easy. Here are 5 things that anyone can do, and any one thing could have an enormous impact. 
  1. Know the signs. If no other way of getting involved is an option (that’s okay!), but you still want to support the safety and well-being of your community’s children, educate yourself on the warning signs, and know how to report if you notice anything.
  2. Get involved with CASA. Our CASAs are intricately trained to be equipped to handle any case for any child, and we ensure that each child has someone advocating for them through the entire court process.
  3. Be informed. Having a general understanding of how the system works and keeping up to date with new developments or legislation regarding foster care, juvenile courts, and CASA is an important first step in becoming active in your community and helping a child in need. Here are a few resources to get started:
  4. Get involved in the Arkansas Division of Children and Family Services (ARDCFS)
  5. Become a Foster Parent.