“The Kids Are Listening:” LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care

by Zachary Kohn
August 22, 2011

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“Homosexuality is a bigger threat to this country than terrorism.” This is the attention grabbing and heartbreaking first line to The Kids Are Listening video campaign. It is exactly this type of alarmist and discriminatory rhetoric that the campaign is attempting to counter. Launched in April by the American Bar Association on Children and the Law, the campaign is attempting to raise awareness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (LGBTQ) youth in America’s foster system.

The focus of the campaign is to ensure that LGBTQ youth in the foster care system receive equal protection and rights as youth who identify as straight. This can be achieved by training social services providers to defend LGBTQ youth and be sensitive to the messages youth hear everyday. It is important to protect these children, and The Kids are Listening campaign is stepping up to help.

LGBTQ youth in America face entrenched discrimination, and those who are in foster care encounter even greater obstacles. One in ten youth in the foster care system identify as LGBTQ, and close to 78 percent of these youth experience harassment and abuse in their placement home (1) (2). LGBT youth are also are more likely than their heterosexual peers to run away from foster care (3). The Kids are Listening campaign is attempting to raise awareness about the victimization these young people face every day.

The video introducing the campaign shows four different young people wearing headphones as anti-gay audio clips are played over music. As the music builds and the clips begin to pile on top of each other, adults approach these youth and pull the headphones out. At this point, the video explains, “Our kids are listening. It’s up to us to make sure they hear the right message.” It is a powerful video that asks adults to step up and let the youth of our nation know that there is nothing wrong or immoral about identifying as LGBTQ.

The Kids are Listening Task Force has already written a Bill of Rights for LGBTQ youth living in group homes and several other resource guides for professionals working with foster children. They work to spread their message that everyone deserves respect, regardless of sexual preference.

To join The Kids are Listening task force or to see the video, visit the website or check them out on Twitter and Facebook.

SAMHSA’s Homelessness Resource Center (HRC) is committed to improving the lives of all people experiencing homeless, including youth who identify as LGBT. As a result, the HRC conducted an Expert Panel and Listening Tour of model programs serving LGBT youth. From these activities, key findings on implementing best practices for serving LGBT youth who are homeless were distilled.

In August 2011, SAMHSA’s HRC, in partnership with the Runaway and Homeless Youth Training and Technical Assistance Center and others, will be disseminating these best practices and strategies at four targeting trainings, in New York, NY, Chicago, IL, Santa Fe, NM, and Miami, FL.

To access more resources, visit Serving LGBTQI2-S Youth on the HRC website, or email Laura Winn.


(1) Freundlich, M. & Avery, R.J. (2004). Gay and lesbian youth in foster care: Meeting their placement and service needs. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 17(4), 39-57.

(2) Feinstein, R., Greenblatt, A., Hass, L., Kohn, S., & Rana, J. (2001). Justice for All? A Report on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Youth in the New York Juvenile Justice System. New York, New York: Urban Justice System.

(3) Sullivan, C., Sommer, S., & Moff, J. (2001). Youth in the Margins: A Report on the Unmet Needs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Adolescents in Foster Care. New York, New York: Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund.

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Category: HRC Insight