Homes Sought for Foster Youth
May is National Foster Care Month, and Jill Jacobs, the head of an Oakland-based agency that works to find permanent, loving families for youth in the foster care system, says there are plenty of them who need support.
"We really need folks to come forward" and "find out if they’re up to this wonderful challenge," Jacobs, the executive director of Family Builders by Adoption, said, particularly when it comes to LGBT kids in foster care.
Family Builders is one of the groups involved with a Saturday, May 11 symposium called "Building Strong Families and Communities of Hope." The event will include foster care and adoption specialists, and first-hand experience from current parents.
"There’s a huge need for families," especially for LGBT youth, who are "disproportionately represented in the foster care system," Jacobs, an out lesbian, said.
"I think there’s a bias that foster parents wouldn’t be willing to care for an LGBT kid, and that’s not true," she said.
Sometimes, a self-fulfilling prophecy exists where people "assume that parents won’t take LGBT youth, and so they don’t even look for families," Jacobs added. "They just automatically put LGBT kids in group homes."
Such places "are often not able to provide the care, the supervision, and the nurturing and support an LGBT youth needs," Jacobs said. Gay foster youth face harassment, bullying, and abuse in group homes more than they do in families.
Challenging, but Rewarding
Being a foster parent "is not for the faint of heart," Jacobs said. "It’s hard work, and it is challenging, but the rewards are worth it."
David Lytle, 47, agrees. He and his partner, Brice Gosnell, 43, live in San Francisco’s Duboce Triangle neighborhood with their son, Miguel, who will be 4 1/2 this week.
Lytle said he’d tell people entering the process, "You have to expect the unexpected," but "don’t let the unexpected derail you. There are setbacks that happen. When kids are in foster care, they’re in foster care for a reason, but the government’s main goal is to reunify biological families."
Foster parents don’t have the full set of legal rights of biological or adoptive parents. In some cases, foster parents do adopt their foster child.
Lytle and Gosnell’s adoption of Miguel went through in November 2011, just over a year after they became his foster parents.
Working with Family Builders, they started the process in October 2009. Among other things they had to do, the couple went through training and a home study, which involved interviews with a social worker.
Lytle said he and Gosnell, who both work in publishing, had a "long-term discussion" about having a child and talked about open adoption, finding a surrogate mother, and other possibilities, but decided to take the foster parent and adoption route.
"There are kids that need homes, and we had a home to offer a child or children," Lytle said. The couple is talking about having more children.
When children enter foster care, they’ve already faced hard lives, Jacobs suggested.
"All kids that come into foster care are there because there’s been some kind of traumatic abuse or neglect," she said. But gay youth may end up in foster care when they get kicked out of their home after they come out or are found out.
"That happens right here in the Bay Area," Jacobs said.
It was abuse that brought David Rodgers Jr., 34, and his siblings into the foster care system when he was 9. Rodgers, who’s gay and lives in Fairfield, said they had faced "severe physical abuse" by their father.
Rodgers estimated that over the nine or so years he was in foster care, "we were in maybe a dozen homes." He sometimes stayed with his maternal grandmother.
He said he realized he’s gay when he was 17, but "I never really had a coming out." His foster families may have known, too, "but we never discussed it," he said, and he didn’t face abuse as a result of his orientation.
"For a gay foster kid, I think there’s an additional layer of insecurity and a validation that is needed, just as with any regular gay or lesbian kid coming out," Rodgers said. Foster youth don’t get that validation unless they have "a very supportive foster family."
But children in the system can already have a lot to worry about already.
"Most of the time, you don’t ever find that place where you can call home," Rodgers said. Rodgers, who works in theater, doesn’t have children, but he plans to be a foster parent himself.
Singles Welcome, Too
Rodgers doesn’t have a partner, but Jacobs indicated that doesn’t mean he couldn’t foster a child. Single parents are welcome, too, she said. Jacobs herself is the adoptive, single parent of two daughters.
The process for a family to become certified usually takes about six to nine months. Family Builders offers a monthly stipend of about $700 to $900 to most parents, depending on the age of the child.
"We work with kids of all ages," but the greatest need is for families who will work with youth 10 and over, Jacobs said. "There’s a great need for families to work with teenagers."
Both LGBT and straight foster parents are needed.
"We’re looking for both, because not every gay kid wants a gay family, and not every gay family wants a gay kid," Jacobs said. She also said that while "It’s been our community that’s been more willing to step up and take care of gay kids, we also need our allies to be there, too."
Saturday’s symposium begins at 9 a.m. at Mills College, 5000 MacArthur Boulevard, Oakland. For more information about Family Builders, visit http://www.familybuilders.org.