Fostering Belonging: LGBTQ+ Youth in Foster Care

By Megan S. Monsour, Family Building Attorney –

Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs places love and belonging third, after only our physical and safety needs. It is no wonder then that Brene Brown says, “In the absence of love and belonging, there is always suffering.”


Suffering is the perfect word for the experiences that underline the statistics surrounding America’s youth growing up in foster care. According to, there are over 391,000 children in foster care in the United States, and 80% of these children have mental health issues. Less than 3% of youth who ‘age out’ of the system will earn a college degree, and 70% of those teens will be arrested at least once by the time they turn 26.

The future for LGBTQ+ foster youth is even bleaker. The majority of LGBTQ+ youth in foster care report physical violence and verbal harassment. These youth are also more likely to be homeless after leaving care. LGBTQ+ teens are six times more likely to experience symptoms of depression than non-identifying teens.

While these statistics are devastating, they aren’t surprising. If a sense of belonging is essential for humans to thrive, these children have the deck stacked against them. They are removed from the only home they know (albeit arguably necessarily) only to face the uncertainty of completely foreign homes, caretakers, and schools without their loved ones or any familiarity at all.

Where do they turn for a sense of belonging in that chaos? Maybe…. YOU?

LGBTQ+ youth in foster care need homes accepting of who they are, even if they themselves aren’t certain of who that might be. The foster care licensing community is dominated by faith-based agencies. While I certainly applaud the effort to care for our most vulnerable by any and all groups willing, I think we have to acknowledge that our faith institutions are not the leaders of acceptance that they should be. I hate to think about the impact that has on these children during such a vulnerable time in their lives.

I wear a rainbow watchband. I like to think of it as a small signal to anyone in the LGBTQ+ community that I am a friend. Foster care youth need more than a signal though, they need a sense of belonging. They need families who will provide them the safe space they need to be who they are when they are facing trials no child should face.

In an over-burdened foster care system where children in our community sleep on office floors, where children are moved from place to place to place, where it is easier to incarcerate teens than find a place for them to live, we need everyone: allies, friends, gay, straight, trans, cis, to consider what they have to give. Maybe you can pass on the grace you received from someone in a difficult time, maybe you can provide the acceptance you longed for but weren’t provided.

All children in foster care deserve love and belonging. LGBTQ+ children in care need foster families who aren’t just willing but able to joyfully provide them a space to truly belong. And since Maslow’s hierarchy of needs applies to all humans and not just children, you may just find the belonging you were looking for too.

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