ACAF was established in 2006 to remove barriers faced by prospective LGBT foster and adoptive parents and has worked closely with more than 70 agencies nationwide serving nearly 40,000 families. The new ACAF will increase the programmatic focus on safety, permanency, and well-being for LGBT youth, who among the 400,000 in our nation’s foster care system.
“The number one priority of ACAF is to ensure that all children in America’s foster care system have the opportunity to be part of a safe, loving, and permanent family,” said Ellen Kahn, director of HRC’s Children, Youth and Families Program, and a professional social worker. “Since 2006, we have worked with adoption agencies and child welfare organizations across the country to increase the pool of qualified parents and forever homes. With this expansion, we will work to increase agency competency in providing services to LGBT children and youth.”
Rita Soronen, president & CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation, agrees with the need.
“At the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, we believe that all children deserve our very best efforts to achieve permanency,” said Soronen. “Educating the public and addressing barriers to adoption is a signature part of what we do. We believe HRC’s tested and broadly disseminated strategy, All Children—All Families, plays a critical role in addressing the too often neglected permanency needs of LGBT youth, but it’s all of our responsibility to make change. We all have a role.”
LGBT youth continue to struggle as they enter the child welfare system, where agency staff members often lack the skills and knowledge to provide them with the services they need and deserve. They sometimes face abuse and hostility from their peers, and even worse, from the adults who are charged with caring for them. The new ACAF training curriculum includes a module on “safety, permanency and well-being for LGBT youth in out-of-home care,” and HRC has a cadre of highly skilled, certified trainers with deep expertise on this subject.
Many agencies have already requested to participate in this expanded All Children—All Families, including the National CASA Association (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a national organization representing youth in foster care, with state affiliates and chapters nationwide. “Our motivation to participate in ACAF is that well trained CASA volunteers can play a guiding role in helping judges understand the risks LGBT youth in care face and what impact they may have on children’s lives,” said National CASA spokesperson Michael Piraino. “Volunteers can also provide strong support to youth who may have experienced rejection in biological and foster homes and be struggling to embrace their identity.”
In addition to these notable national organizations, Clark County, Nevada’s Department of Child and Family Services is hoping to be one of the first public agencies to earn the new ACAF Seal of Recognition – which is given to agencies that complete the ACAF benchmarks, with free technical assistance provided by the HRC Foundation.
“It’s an honor to partner with the HRC on enhancing recruitment efforts to increase the number of quality foster and adoptive parents for our children in care,” said Clark County Department of Family Services Director Lisa Ruiz-Lee. “We are working hard toward completing HRC’s All Children – All Families benchmarks. We’re excited about how our efforts will benefit families within the LGBT community, and ultimately our children.”
“A disproportionately high number of youth in foster care are LGBT,” Kahn added. “The sad reality is that many have been abandoned by their families because they are LGBT. Through ACAF, we are committed to finding loving homes for all youth.”
Learn more about the All Children – All Families initiative at www.hrc.org/acaf.