News Sunshine State

Protection For Florida’s LGBT Foster Children Is Under Attack

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Written by Richard Hack

TALLAHASSEE—After pressure from far-right religious groups and a review by Republican Governor Rick Scott, language that was added last year by the Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) to protect LGBT foster children in the state-run program has been deleted.

The new rules were put in place by DCF secretary Mike Carroll last year to protect youth from bullying and harassment, banning psychologically harmful “conversion” therapy, and to provide affirming guidelines for the care of transgender youth. Now those rules have been specifically removed from a draft version of a proposal aimed at group homes.

The draft rule banned staffers at group homes from attempting to change or discourage a child’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. After objections from the Florida Baptist Children’s Home and the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, the rules were reconsidered and eliminated.

At an Administrative Rules Hearing held Friday April 8, dozens of speakers asked DCF to reinstate it.

“To intentionally remove language that provides clear guidance to care providers is to leave young people even more vulnerable to harassment, discrimination, and psychologically dangerous conversion therapy,” Nadine Smith of Equality Florida said.  “These children are already at great risk and placing them in an unsupportive environment is detrimental to their wellbeing. We call on Governor Rick Scott and the Department of Children and Families to adopt inclusive rules prohibiting any unfair treatment of LGBTQ youth,” she said.

Currey Cook, Lambda Legal Senior Attorney and Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project Director, agreed.  “Estimates suggest that 20% of children in foster care are LGBTQ. By literally erasing inclusive standards from the group home rules, Florida’s DCF has erased the needs and experiences of huge portion of the youth they are required by law to serve, and ignored the constitutional rights of those youth to safety from harm and to equitable treatment,” Cook said.  “In view of the harsh overrepresentation of LGBTQ youth of color in the foster care system, and the dramatic rates of violence and discrimination transgender youth experience, the last thing LGBTQ youth in Florida’s group homes need is to have the government agency charged with protecting them send a clear message that their lives don’t matter.”

Carroll, who did not attend the hearing, said in a statement that DCF does not and will not tolerate any discrimination or bullying against any vulnerable child for any reason.

The Department of Children and Families will accept public comment on the draft rule until April 15.