LGBT Teens Find Sanctuary in Foster Care

06/25/2015 06:30 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2016
Pavel Losevsky via Getty Images

Three years ago this month, my spouse and I received our license to provide foster care in California, with an intention to adopt. But this was not our first rodeo... a decade ago, we had been licensed foster care dads in Washington State working specifically with boys in the SAY program -- these teens had been adjudicated as sexual offenders. The thing about "sexually aggressive youth" is that in all cases they had been sexually abused themselves. What we found with these boys is that they were just normal teenagers, sexualized too soon, caught up in a system that labeled them as sexual offenders, a life sentence for many of them.

Back to California and three years ago. We were the only ones in our class of foster care trainees who wanted an older kid. Due to several factors (our age and our swimming pool), we wanted to avoid some of the issues of having a toddler in the house. We also indicated we would be happy to welcome an LGBT identified child into our family. Due to the large number of teens in the system, we were told that our placement would be relatively quick.

Yet, here we are, three years later with no kid.

After receiving our license we were given to understand that the next thing that had to happen was a home study inspection. We waited a year for that inspection due to staffing issues in the state administration office that handles home studies.

Our patience running thin, we finally placed a call to an LGBT Foster Care Advocacy agency in Los Angeles. Hearing that we wanted the harder to place "older kid," they expressed certain shock and dismay about our situation. And then, things happened. Calls were made, cages rattled, and our state inspection was scheduled.

We passed muster after some odd scrutiny regarding our backyard and possibly dangerous boulders that dot the property. While waiting further months, we began a remodel, improving doors and windows in the house. This project was met with concern from the county placement agency and they decided to make us wait until after the remodel was completed. We do have another house in the mountains nearby, so it's not as if we had nowhere to live during the remodel. Another year passed.

When we called to report our house project was completed, we were told that we needed to start over with the state -- another inspection was required. And our other required submissions were now expired. So, back to get the witch's broom. Tax documents, medical records, physical exams, TB test, CPR training, all had to be done again.

Which brings us to three years.

Friends have asked us, "Is there some bias in these agencies -- is it because you're gay?" It's hard to imagine that fact being included in the reasons for the delay. More likely, it is simply a matter of the system being so completely overloaded, so fraught with abuse and investigations of abuse, that the people who work in the government agencies cannot attend to the most pressing issue at hand -- creating more suitable living situations for the traumatized young people now in foster care?

One certain result of our three-year wait has been the development of Sanctuary Palm Springs. While we delved into the workings of the county's labyrinthian process to foster and adopt a child, we learned of the specific plight of LGBT teens in the system. They are, without doubt, the most at risk for abuse and self-inflicted harm.

We came to understand that LGBT teens number 18-20 percent of the population in foster care, much higher than the general percentages in society. This is due to the number of children being forced from their family homes once coming out, or being found out. Being discovered LGBT while in state custody often results in bullying and physical mistreatment. With that in mind, one can extrapolate the actual numbers of LGBT teens in foster care as being even higher.

We envision Sanctuary Palm Springs as a Family Home for LGBT teens in state custody. Not a group home, per se, but a place of safety and healing in a community based support system. These kids have lost their families, as many in the adult LGBT population did once they came out. But ask any LGBT professional and they will tell you they found a new, more supportive family amongst friends and colleagues in the LGBT community.

Understanding that a new family awaits them, where love and recognition of worth are available, our kids can find within themselves the path to a healthy future. Our facility will emphasize the importance of education as a means for success. And our Mentor Program will pair our residents with skilled members of the adult LGBT community, giving our kids an anchor in learning what interests them the most, whether it's water color painting or automotive repair.

An additional element of Sanctuary Palm Springs is the Transitional Housing Program that serves young adults leaving foster care. No longer forced out on to the streets at 18, our residents can take advantage of further support and learn the necessary independent living skills to thrive as an adult.

So, this three-year wait has not been for nothing. Our supporters in creating Sanctuary Palm Springs include Rep. Raul Ruiz, Mayor Steve Pougnet and members of the City Council. The outpouring of support from the media and the people of Palm Springs has been overwhelming.

Though not always a smooth process, our work to complete the requirements with the county and state agencies has had some bright moments. We note a level of hope in the system. Overworked bureaucrats who believe in our program have expressed their goodwill and guidance. They see our plan as an important development in the care of this underserved and vulnerable population.

In the beginning, we saw the need and said, "Someone should do something for these kids." It turned out it was us. We have taken on a Master Class of sorts, how to start a non-profit organization and build from the ground up a home that heals the hearts and troubled souls of our young. Please join us in our endeavor. These kids are worth the investment. And we can guarantee a high rate of return.

As for our own family, we are expecting a boy. We brought back cigars from a recent trip to Cuba... just in case.