Young people in the foster care system who feel their identity isn’t supported may suffer serious impacts to their mental health

This article was published on: 12/6/18 12:11 PM by Mike Minarsky

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Adolescents in foster care need additional support as they explore their racial, spiritual and gender identities, according to a new report by from Connecticut Voices for Children.

The teenage years are when children are questioning who they are and their place in the world.

For those in foster care, unstable placements, trauma and the bias associated with being in foster care add stress to that critical developmental process.

Of the more than 1,500 teens in foster care in Connecticut, Stephanie Luczak, co-author of the report and a child development policy fellow with Connecticut Voices for Children, points out that almost 60 percent of those who entered the system as teens experience three or more placement changes while in care.

“This lack of stability can disrupt their identity development and have long lasting effects,” she points out. “Added stress has an impact on their self-esteem as well as their confidence.”

The report notes the state’s Department of Children and Families has improved support for youth in foster care, but says caseworkers and foster families often lack training in identity development.

Jessica Nelson, another co-author and an associate fellow with Connecticut Voices for Children, says the report grew out of listening to teens in foster care at Youth Advisory Boards around the state, as they discussed their experiences.

“We found a pattern of them talking about their religious identity, their racial identity and their sexuality and gender identity, and how these facets of themselves were impacted by foster care,” Nelson relates.

She adds that youth who feel their identities are not being fully supported may suffer serious mental health effects.

Luczak says the report recommendations include recruiting a more diverse pool of foster parents, bolstering protections for youth who identify as LGBTQ, and updating the Adolescent Bill of Rights and Expectations.

“To incorporate protections and supports for identity development,” she explains. “This also includes implementing a process for adolescents to receive and understand these rights.”

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