After a year unlike any other, this year’s All Children – All Families (ACAF) report from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC) underscores the resilience of this program that has worked to create a world in which LGBTQ+ youth and families can live free from bias, discrimination, and inequity for nearly 14 years.
By working in partnership to provide child welfare professionals with the tools they need, build understanding, and empower agencies to implement inclusive policies and practices, the HRC Foundation’s ACAF program helps set up LGBTQ+ youth and families for success. Through this work, the program addresses critical issues facing LGBTQ+ youth and families –– from unintentional hurdles to outright discrimination.
The third edition of this report demonstrates the increasing reach of this one-of-a-kind program, with more participating organizations than ever. This year’s participants also took on imperative work to grow their commitments to intersectionality and to create policies and practices that do not mirror the very same systemic issues that put predominantly Black and Brown youth and families at higher risk of interacting with the child welfare system.
Throughout the report, it is clear that the dual pandemics of pervasive white supremacy that touches all aspects of our society and the impact of the COVID-19 virus have uniquely positioned our participants to focus inward and evaluate how their work must address these challenges for the good of the Black and Brown LGBTQ+ youth they serve. The 119 organizations participating in ACAF this year have shown their dedication to this work by implementing ACAF’s “Benchmarks of LGBTQ Inclusion,” a means of tracking policy and practice changes within agencies.
We are in a moment that makes the work of ACAF feel all the more important. The Supreme Court decision in Fulton v Philadelphia from June of this year put discrimination in child welfare at the forefront of the minds of many, reminding us that, in a system with a storied past full of inequity that harmed the most marginalized among us –– Black, Brown and LGBTQ+ youth –– the responsibility of protecting those who are incredibly vulnerable to discrimination of so many kinds still lies with all of us. These change-makers understand this too.
Since 2007, hundreds of child welfare agencies across the U.S. have used ACAF’s resources to enhance their efforts to achieve safety, permanency, and well-being for LGBTQ+ youth and families, and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation is committed to fighting for all those serving the LGBTQ+ community. This work would not be possible without you –– thank you for everything you have done and that you continue to do.
Jay Brown (He/Him/His) , Senior Vice President, Programs, Research & Training , Human Rights Campaign Foundation
The 2021 annual report celebrates organizations that partnered with All Children - All Families over the last year to implement LGBTQ+ inclusive policies and practices and features a complete list of participants grouped by Tier of Recognition. One hundred nineteen agencies — up from 100 last year — worked diligently to conduct an internal self-assessment, provide professional development to staff and implement ACAF’s Benchmarks of LGBTQ+ Inclusion, which track policy and practice changes within agencies. This continued participation increase illustrates the growing understanding within child welfare that recognizes LGBTQ+ inclusion is essential to achieving the goals of safety, permanency and well-being.
HRC Foundation's All Children - All Families provides educational resources, training and technical assistance on LGBTQ+ inclusion for child welfare systems. Since 2007, ACAF has been the go-to resource for agencies looking to truly welcome and affirm LGBTQ+ prospective parents and transform their service delivery for LGBTQ+ youth in out-of-home care.
Research demonstrates the crucial nature of this work. LGBTQ+ youth are overrepresented in foster care and too often these young people enter systems that further traumatize them due to a lack of inclusive policies and practices. At the same time, the LGBTQ+ community remains an untapped resource when it comes to finding families for children and youth in foster care. For these reasons, the program supports agencies’ efforts to achieve safety, permanency and well-being by improving practice with LGBTQ+ youth and families.
LGBTQ+ youth report higher rates of mistreatment, more frequent placement disruptions and higher likelihood of being placed in congregate care settings.
But only 14% of LGBTQ+ adults surveyed knew of an LGBTQ+ inclusive agency near them.
A majority of the 32 new participants featured in this report achieved at least the first Tier of Recognition. The group of new participants expands ACAF's reach into six states - Alabama, Connecticut, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico and North Carolina - and the District of Columbia for the first time. The list also reflects the success of coordinated efforts within networks of organizations, including ten new CASA affiliates. Fourteen of the returning organizations advanced to a higher tier, including five first-time Innovators. Every single 2020 Innovator continued participating into the 2021 cycle, many demonstrating new and enhanced innovations in LGBTQ+ inclusive practice.
Through its annual certification process, training, technical assistance and expert resources, All Children - All Families partners with these organizations to remove barriers faced by LGBTQ+ youth and families. Participants gain access to a comprehensive, online self-assessment tool, free webinars on the latest best practices and peer-to-peer learning opportunities.
For some families, their religious beliefs seem directly in conflict with affirming their child’s LGBTQ+ identity. Social workers, clinicians and other providers can help families negotiate the journey in ways that support their values and their children.
A diverse panel of LGBTQ+ youth with lived experience in child welfare, will share their experiences, expertise, and strategies to help social workers, foster parents, congregate care and other providers better meet the needs of the sexual and gender minority youth they serve.
This webinar will introduce participants to intersectionality — a theory that calls on us to recognize that oppressions are linked and cannot be resolved alone — and how it informs our efforts to achieve safety, permanency and well-being for all young people.
“Participating in All Children - All Families has helped my agency to better serve the LGBTQ+ community.”
“I would encourage another agency to participate in ACAF.”
“My agency will continue to participate in ACAF.”
All Children - All Families (ACAF) participating agencies are recognized in one of three Tiers of Recognition, depending on the extent to which they have implemented the ACAF Benchmarks of LGBTQ+ Inclusion. The benchmark requirements for each Tier of Recognition are outlined in the table below.
At this level, agencies are often at the early stages of inclusive policy and practice implementation. Benchmarks focus on establishing non-discrimination protections, providing staff with online learning related to LGBTQ+ topics and improving LGBTQ+ inclusion in forms, paperwork and messaging. This tier’s requirements are meaningful and achievable for agencies beginning their work on LGBTQ+ inclusion.
At this level, agencies have implemented the essential elements of LGBTQ+ inclusion in policies and affirming practices. Benchmarks go beyond basic non-discrimination protections to the policies and practices necessary to actively “roll out the welcome mat” to the LGBTQ+ community. These agencies have also assessed their practices specific to youth and parents to ensure LGBTQ+ inclusion and acted to make these efforts sustainable for the long-term. Organizations that achieve the Solid Foundation for Inclusion Tier receive the “You Are Welcome Here” Seal of Recognition.
At this level, agencies are pushing themselves beyond the solid foundation they have built and implementing innovative approaches to LGBTQ+ inclusion in each of the seven key policy and practice areas. Benchmarks at this level also require agencies to demonstrate leadership in areas like policy advocacy or organizational partnerships. Organizations that achieve the Innovative Inclusion Tier receive the “Innovator” Seal of Recognition.
Ten participating organizations have not yet met a Tier of Recognition. We thank these organizations for their ongoing commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion and look forward to celebrating them at one of our tiers in future reports:
In 2018, Manuel Padilla went from living alone in his one-bedroom apartment to moving into a house to raise his nine nieces and nephews. Over a year later, some of his nieces and nephews moved in with other family members. Now, Padilla is in the process of adopting two of his teenage nieces.
Padilla often relates to the youth in his home since he was in foster care from the age of three until he was emancipated at 16 years old. As a kinship parent, he wanted to provide his nieces with the safety and comfort that he didn’t get while growing up. “I just wanted to give them an opportunity at life that I don't think I got with my family,” he says.
As an openly gay man, it was important for Padilla to foster LGBTQ+ youth as well. He is now a foster parent to two teenage trans boys. “My main goal is to be true to myself, and allow the kids to be true to themselves and to express themselves in a manner that they see fit,” he says.
With four teenagers at home, Padilla is teaching them life skills he wishes he had learned as a youth such as understanding credit reports and creating a savings account. He also educates them about sexual health.
“I was supposed to be a statistic,” Padilla says. “I was supposed to be dead, doing drugs, homeless or committed suicide. If I can teach kids to be able to make it out in the real world, then they may not be that other statistic.”
Pearl Bell, Youth Development Specialist at Colorado’s Division of Child Welfare, has spearheaded LGBTQ+ inclusion work at the organization for the last five years and has used the All Children - All Families program to identify gaps where they could improve. This year the organization has once again achieved the Innovative Inclusion Tier of Recognition.
For the last two years, Bell and a group of staff advocates have been working on a best practices guide for serving LGBTQ+ youth in the state’s child welfare system that will be available later in the year.
“We want to make sure that our young people have supports that are not only affirming, but that look like them and have similar experiences to them,” she says, “so that they can learn and grow and become resilient, successful adults.”
With the support of her mother, Victoria came out as transgender when she was 10 years old. Years later, at the age of 17, Victoria ended up in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. “It made me feel unwanted, lost and unaccepted,” she recalls.
Victoria lived at a children’s shelter for a year and half before being placed in the transitional living program at Lawrence Hall in 2004. “The biggest person in my life that was supposed to be there for me, let me down,” Victoria says. “When I got to Lawrence Hall, I met so many people that accepted me and if they didn't know how to accept me, they found a way.”
Victoria has fond memories of the outings and retreats she attended with her group. She felt understood and seen when given the space to talk. “We were able to be ourselves; we were able to be free there.”
While Victoria did face bullying as the only trans youth in the program at the time, allied staff always intervened.
In 2011, Victoria returned to Lawrence Hall as a trainer. During a three and half hour LGBTQ+ training for new employees, Victoria shares what was helpful and hurtful as a trans youth while living at Lawrence Hall.
Renee Lehocky, Director of Strategic Initiatives, says Victoria’s story is powerful and gives new employees a better understanding of LGBTQ+ youth. “We understand the harm that is done to youth at that early age if they're not affirmed and accepted,” Lehocky says. “That's something that we stress throughout the training.”
For Victoria, it’s a chance to show others that she is more than her past struggles. “I get to show people I'm not a statistic. I'm not what people assume trans people are going to be,” she says.
Victoria’s advice to new employees is to ask questions if they don’t understand something and to build relationships with the kids. Youth need a support system to prevent them from going AWOL, she says.
“For a lot of youth, the only way out is to go to the streets and sell their body or do drugs because they can't find comfort where they're supposed to call home,” she says. “If they're being tormented and talked down to — who wants to be there?”
Over the last ten years, Victoria’s unique perspective and lived experiences as a trans woman has helped shape LGBTQ+ inclusion efforts at Lawrence Hall, which achieved the Innovative Inclusion Tier of Recognition this year.
“Being at Lawrence Hall allowed me to become the person I am today.” Victoria says. “I'm successful in my own way, I'm rich in my own way and I'm alive today because of Lawrence Hall.”
Guylaine Hubbard-Brosmer, PHD, MSW, a Post-Adoption Social Worker at Vista Del Mar has both personal and professional experience with adoption. She and her husband adopted two children.
At Vista Del Mar, which achieved the Innovative Inclusion Tier of Recognition this year, Brosmer coordinates information exchanges between birth parents and adoptees, as well as organizes and moderates monthly educational seminars. Last year, she helped start three different support groups for adoptive parents, including a LGBTQ+ support group that meets quarterly on Zoom.
The first support group was set to meet in person in March 2020 but the pandemic changed the course of the meetings — for the better. “The silver lining of the pandemic was being able to offer both the monthly educational seminars and support groups online to a wider audience,” Brosmer says.
“The pandemic forced us to make that shift to a virtual platform. Our attendance is way up from what it used to be,” she says. Attendance for the educational seminars doubled in 2020 compared to 2019.
As for the support groups, attendance is up by a third in 2021 compared to when they started last year. “Since that very first adoptive parents support group ended up being virtual, that made it so much easier for the agency to offer more,” Brosmer says. “It makes it available to a much greater population because we don't have to take geography into account.”
Meeting online has made the support groups more accessible to clients in Southern California as well as across the country, Brosmer says. She has former clients who now live in Missouri and Florida who have participated in the support groups.
The LGBTQ+ support group discusses general adoptive parenting but is also a space to share the unique experiences LGBTQ+ adoptive parents and parents-to-be might face in the process.
“I think there's an added cohesiveness of being in a group that they all identify with,” Brosmer says.
Barnaby Murff, CEO of Extraordinary Families, guides the agency in setting policy initiatives that best serve children and families. “I feel like it's our moral imperative to try and educate and bring awareness,” she says. “These are children like any other children and they’re in this situation due to no fault of their own, and we need to make sure that they're cared for.”
Recently, the agency has deepened its intersectional approach to inclusion, taking into account gender and sexuality as well as race, ethnicity and ability. In June 2020, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, the agency formed an Equity Committee to redouble efforts to become an all-inclusive and anti-racist organization.
The majority of children in foster care are children of color, while many of the parents caring for them are not, Murff notes. “We raced to the table to create a forum last summer after George Floyd's murder to hold space for families in need of tools and a framework to discuss these deeply troubling issues with the children they are parenting,” Murff says. “There's trauma that's going on for the kids, for the parents, for the families — how do we talk about it?”
The Equity Committee meets monthly to bring diversity, equity and inclusion learning materials, interactive activities, guest speakers, competency training and workshops to staff in a dedicated session every month. Staff is now working on an anti-racist training module to include in their foster parent training, and the agency has created a DEI framework that is getting embedded into their strategic plan, organizational systems and culture.
“We need to continually be educating ourselves and really exhibit our allyship and our outrage at the inequalities,” Murff says. “We need to hold each other accountable and we need to use our privilege to stand up and call it out.”
In addition to advocacy in public policy, Texas CASA is charged with supporting 72 local CASA programs across the state that train and recruit community volunteers to advocate for kids in foster care and their families. “Our vision statement at Texas CASA is a safe positive future for all Texas children and families and for us, all means all,” Emma Ledford, Communications Specialist, says.
Texas CASA, which achieved the Innovative Inclusion Tier of Recognition this year, leads by example, Ledford says. The agency provides LGBTQ+ inclusive resources and virtual trainings for the statewide CASA network. For example, a new video series features experts speaking on topics and issues impacting the child welfare system, including one on sexuality and gender.
Ledford, who is queer and non-binary, is especially passionate about writing blogs about LGBTQ+ volunteers and youth and compiling guides on how to best advocate for LGBTQ+ youth in foster care. “It's just really cool to be able to tell stories that are close to my heart,” she says.
Texas CASA, along with local programs and experts, are currently developing e-learning materials focused on four core issues: anti-racism, LGBTQ+ advocacy, disability justice, and economic equity.
“Those issues are really the biggest issues that affect kids and families once they're in care, and also injustice around those issues affects why they come into care in the first place. So it's important to know that and address that,” Ledford says.
This year there was an increase in participation in the All Children - All Families program from CASA organizations across the country. Ten new organizations, including Dallas CASA, joined ACAF, bringing the total to 18 participating CASA organizations.
The backbone of CASA organizations is the volunteers who advocate for the best interests of a child.
“If you're a queer kid in the foster care system, often it’s because you've been rejected by your family,” Ledford says. “You don't know who you can turn to a lot of the time. If you have a CASA volunteer who is specifically appointed to advocate for you, who has a similar experience to you, and who you can open up to, that can make all the difference.”
For the last seven years, 360 Youth Services, which achieved the Innovative Inclusion Tier of Recognition this year, has provided LGBTQ+ specific transitional housing for youth experiencing homelessness. The program houses youth in accordance with their gender identity, helps them access gender-affirming care and connects them to LGBTQ+ mentors.
Carolyn Wahlskog, Executive Director of Housing, is not only invested in creating a LGBTQ+ affirming space at the organization but is also committed to transforming her community in the suburbs of Chicago by working with schools, mental health providers and local businesses to be more affirming of LGBTQ+ people too. “How do you make communities welcoming so youth don't always feel like they have to flee to cities, and instead they can be rooted where they are?” she says.
Wahlskog and a group of advocates, known as the LGBTQ+ Roundtable, meet regularly with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to advocate on behalf of LGBTQ+ youth in care. The LGBTQ+ Roundtable formally began in 2017 with the aim to provide seamless services for queer and trans youth across the state and to operationalize DCFS’s LGBTQ+ inclusive policy.
The Roundtable includes members from several other All Children - All Families participants, including: Aunt Martha's Health & Wellness - Child Welfare Services, Lawrence Hall, Little City Foundation, Lutheran Child & Family Services of Illinois and UCAN - Child Welfare Services.
“All these different people came together, and asked, ‘how do we work together to create a better experience for some of the most vulnerable young people in our community and in our state?’” Wahlskog says.
Using their collective voice, the Roundtable was able to ensure that any youth in care could get an appointment at the gender identity clinic at Lurie Children’s Hospital. The group was also able to push for mandatory LGBTQ+ competency training to be included in foster parent training.
From collecting data around gender identity in their counseling services for the first time to urging the city of Naperville to switch the signs of public single-stall restrooms to all-gender signs, 360 Youth Services continues to make strides for LGBTQ+ inclusion in its community.
“I'm most proud of the way that we've set an example for our community,” Wahlskog says. “We laid the groundwork for all these other groups to be able to exist by being pretty out and proud about our services and our young people.”
Alison Delpercio, MSW
Jean-Phillipe Regis, MPS
Thank you to HRC Foundation Senior Vice President Jay Brown and HRC Senior Director of Programs & Partnership Ellen Kahn for their leadership and input on the report.
Thank you to All Children - All Families Director Alison Delpercio for her leadership and to Associate Director Jean-Phillipe Regis and ACAF Assistant Tamari Dzotsenidze for their strong work supporting agencies through the participation process.
Thank you to HRC Foundation Manager Alicia Bazell for developing the policy and practice webinar track and contributing to webinar series management and validation of agency assessment responses.
Thank you to Robin McHaelen for managing our 2021 webinar series and sharing her expertise with our webinar attendees.
Thank you to Nia Clark for presenting ACAF’s core webinars.
Thank you to Alec Carrasco on HRC’s Data Analytics Team for his support in survey design and data management.
Thank you to ACAF intern Sydney Whitcombe.
Thank you to the many guest webinar presenters who made the ACAF webinar series possible, including: James Alva, Kathryn Berringer, Weston Charles-Gallo, Nia Clark, Julia Del Buck, Jaime Delgado, Evelyn Cortez, Sarah Field, Charleigh Flohr, Justina Hall, Sarah Herrick, Ellen Kitzerow, Nakiya Lynch, Melanie Michaud, Harry Morgan, Davi Mühlinghaus-Anderson, Tony Porter, Eddie Rodriguez, Wolfheart Sanchez, Katie Page Sanders, Brooke Scott, Kori Sewell, Jonah Siegel, Matthew Strieker, Michael Vazquez, Angela Weeks, Lauren Wethers-Coggins, Chantilly Wijayasinha.
Thank you to Yvonne Marquez for writing the change-maker profiles.
Thank you to HRC’s Bob Villaflor and Tarine Wright for designing this report.
Thank you to those who were interviewed for the organization and parent profiles: Guylaine Hubbard-Brosmer of Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services; Emma Ledford of Texas CASA; Renee Lehocky and Victoria of Lawrence Hall; Barnaby Murff of Extraordinary Families; Carolyn Wahlskog of 360 Youth Services; Pearl Bell of Colorado’s Division of Child Welfare; and Manuel Padilla.
Finally, thanks again to all of our participating agencies — past and present — for their commitment to making the world a better place for all children and all families.
Note to Readers
This report details the efforts of 119 organizations working to best serve LGBTQ+ children, youth and families. The Tier of Recognition earned is one indicator of the organization’s level of LGBTQ+ inclusion. All organizations must continually work to ensure policies are translated into practice and the LGBTQ+ community is safe, welcomed and affirmed while in their care. For organizations in this report that haven’t yet met a tier, and all organizations not included in this report, you can look for signs of inclusion on the organization’s website and pay attention to word of mouth among LGBTQ+ community members. For examples of where else to look, see the Non-Discrimination and Rolling Out the Welcome Mat benchmarks. Above all, your own individual experiences matter. In the event you feel you have been discriminated against, see if the organization has a grievance process through which you can communicate your concerns to the organization’s leadership. You can learn more about state laws to understand your legal rights at www.hrc.org/state-maps.