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One in five Los Angeles County foster youths identifies as LGBTQ, according to the recently-released results of a study—the first of its kind—by researchers at UCLA’s Williams Institute.

“Sexual and Gender Minority Youth in Los Angeles County Foster Care: Assessing Disproportionately and Disparities” is the first population-based survey aimed specifically at measuring what role sexuality and gender identity play in forming the identities of the youth within the foster care system. The study examined 786 randomly sampled youth ages 12 through 21 living in the county foster care system.

The majority of LGBTQ youth were people of color, with one-third of the total LGBTQ youth also reporting that their biological mother or father had been born outside the U.S. Disproportionality also comes into play: there are between 1.5 to 2 times as many LGBTQ youth living in foster care as LGBTQ youth estimated to be living outside of foster care.

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 11.29.42 AMWith such a high number of LGBTQ foster youth identified, the need for tools and programs that properly serve them become paramount. This is particularly important given that, according to the study, 12.9% of LGBTQ youth reported poor treatment by the foster care system compared to 5.8% of non-LGBTQ youth.

“The cost to society of a foster care system that doesn’t properly serve LGBTQ youth isn’t just measured by the number of young people who are mistreated, discriminated against, and bounced from home to home,” said Curt Shepard, the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Director of Children, Youth and Family Services, “it’s measured by all the associated costs—monetary and otherwise—to care for the psychological disorders, homelessness, and other issues that so many experience when they age out of the foster system at 18. Those are the issues youth are much more likely to experience after having lived in a group home, rather than with a loving family. There’s no question that the best thing we can do for foster youth, and for society, is to take better care of them while they’re young.”

This has led to a promising new project, headed by the LA LGBT Center, which will test a new model of service to help LGBTQ foster youth find stable living situations. The Center has partnered with 20 organizations across the county to implement the pilot project.

Read the full report below.

The study was funded through part of $13.3M, five-year grant awarded to the Los Angeles LGBT Center as part of the federal Permanency Innovations Initiative. The report was co-authored by Bianca D.M. Wilson, Senior Scholar of Public Policy at UCLA’s Williams Institute; Khush Cooper, Co-director of Holarchy Consulting; and Angel Kastanis and Sheila Nezhad, Public Policy Fellows at the Williams Institute.

Sexual and Gender Minority Youth in Los Angeles County Foster Care: Assessing Disproportionately and Dispar…