From Our Perspectives: Untold Stories of LGBTQ Youth in the Foster Care System in Los Angeles County

Abstract From Our Perspectives: Untold Stories of LGBTQ Youth in the Foster Care System in Los Angeles County By Humberto Solis Flores Master of Social Work The current study explored the experiences of LGBTQ foster care alumni in the Los Angeles County child welfare system. The researchers interviewed six participants and utilized life history interviews and Photovoice methods. Participants were between the ages of 18-26, identified as LGBTQ, and resided within the Los Angeles County foster care system. Individuals first participated in a face-to-face semi-structured interview where they were asked a series of questions relating to their experiences before, during, and after foster care. Following the interview, the participants were asked to take 5-10 photographs over the course of 7-14 days that represented past experiences and hopes for the future. Participants then scheduled a follow-up dialogue session with the researcher where they were able to discuss their photographs. All data collected in this study was analyzed and then consensually coded into twelve domains: pre-placement history, placement history, transitioning out of foster care, educational experiences, mental health, substance abuse, LGBTQ identity, mentorship, resilience, systemic change, sexual/romantic relationships, and significant relationships. The results suggest that LGBTQ youth in foster care face unique challenges before, during, and after their involvement with the child welfare system. Some of these challenges include substance abuse, homelessness, and barriers to accessing mental health services; however, despite these obstacles, participants remained hopeful and resilient. Many participants attributed their resilience to faith, religion, and/or spirituality; creative activities and outlets, such as music or writing; and volunteering/community involvement. They also spoke highly of mentors and family members, or family members of choice, that assisted them throughout their transition from foster care. Recommendations for systemic change include recruitment of more LGBTQ foster parents, additional access to resources, and increased support and awareness from those working directly with this population. Keywords: LGBTQ, foster care, Los Angeles, Photovoice, qualitative interviewing