Recent studies have found an overrepresentation of youth with diverse sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE) in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, yet programs and services designed to serve the needs of this population are challenging to locate. There have been significant advancements to address the needs of youth involved in public systems – child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health, substance use, Medicaid, housing and homelessness – and this new center provides a much-needed clearinghouse for these efforts. Led by The Institute for Innovation and Implementation at the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work (The Institute), the National SOGIE Center consolidates the latest evidence-based tools, trainings, and other resources, as well as consultation, for those working in public youth-serving systems.
“This national center is a centralized location for the latest and best resources to serve LGBTQ+ youth and their families. If it isn’t on our site, contact us and we will make sure you get the best available help,” said National SOGIE Center Director Angela Weeks, DBA, MA.
Public systems that serve youth and their families, like child welfare and juvenile justice, are not designed to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ youth and their families. A recent study found LGBTQ+ youth are overrepresented in a Midwest foster care system at three times the rate of the general population. This study, combined with two earlier studies in Los Angeles and in New York City, points to nationwide disproportionality of LGBTQ+ youth in foster care. Further studies found similarities in the juvenile justice system. As a result of insufficient programs and services specifically designed to meet their needs, combined with experiencing years of oppression and minority stress, LGBTQ+ youth continue to face increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
Despite these findings, there has not been a coordinated national approach for implementing best practices and policies to address the needs of LGBTQ+ youth involved in public-serving systems, nor has there been a centralized library of well-researched methods for addressing their needs. The National SOGIE Center will address this gap.
The majority of LGBTQ+ youth involved in public systems are Black, Indigenous, and Latinx. The National SOGIE Center is dedicated to ameliorating the intertwined harm of systemic racism and homophobia and to furthering an understanding of how this oppression impacts the well-being of LGBTQ+ youth.
"We need to push the field forward, past our tunnel vision of what identity means, to an understanding of how racism, transphobia, and homophobia affect youth and family outcomes. This is the foundation on which we build our work," Weeks said.
The National SOGIE Center houses resources and training on responsibly identifying LGBTQ+ youth through data collection; implementing best and emerging practices for providing services to LGBTQ+ youth and their families, and free training for staff on understanding SOGIE. The Center highlights the best in recent resources developed through the partner organizations and provides technical assistance for changing policies and practices. Though this new collaboration primarily focuses on resources for policymakers and the workforce, the center also includes resources for youth and their families through a new website designed by the Family Acceptance Project and The Institute.
“We are here to help systems develop approaches to ensuring LGBTQ+ youth can stay with their families and in their communities, to help families learn to support and affirm their LGBTQ+ youth, and to help systems to do no harm,” said Marlene Matarese, PhD, principal investigator, National SOGIE Center.
Partner organizations comprising the National SOGIE Center include youth advocates, racial justice organizations, higher education, and direct service organizations. Many of them are leading work across the country on advocacy, policy, financing, system design, intervention design, implementation, evaluation, and direct care services for youth and their families within the public child, youth, and family-serving systems. They all share a sense of urgency in addressing the needs LGBTQ+ youth in systems and their families.
These partner organizations, in addition to The Institute, include Affirmative Research Collaborative, Family Builders, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, Human Service Collaborative, Judge Baker Children’s Center, Ruth Ellis Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Acceptance Project, The Center for the Study of Social Policy, and Youth MOVE National.
“The HRC Foundation is proud to be a partner in the vital work of the National SOGIE Center. The health and well-being of LGBTQ+ youth is a high priority in our work. While the last few years have seen progress, it remains difficult for LGBTQ+ youth and their families to access needed care. We’re excited to support the center’s mission to remove barriers to care and ensure equitable treatment and outcomes for LGBTQ+ youth," said HRC senior director of programs and partnerships Ellen Kahn, MSS.
About The Institute for Innovation & Implementation
The Institute for Innovation & Implementation (the Institute), founded in 2005, is a part of the University of Maryland School of Social Work. The Institute is committed to building research-based, inclusive, culturally responsive, and transformative child-, youth-and family-serving systems and services, and to developing the capacity of the workforce within these systems. We do this work in partnership with government agencies, health care providers, youth and their families, and community-based organizations in order to improve outcomes for and with children, youth, and their families.