Texas CASA Honored as Innovator in Supporting & Serving LGBTQ Youth & Families

Texas CASA is proud to announce that we have received the All Children – All Families (ACAF) Seal of Recognition as a 2019 “Innovator in Supporting and Serving LGBTQ Youth & Families”! This seal is awarded to child welfare organizations that demonstrate a commitment to supporting and serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) children and youth in care. It is also the highest of three levels of recognition that organizations participating in the ACAF process can receive.

On June 26, 2019, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation released Celebrating Everyday Change-Makers in Child Welfare — a first-of-its-kind report highlighting more than 70 child welfare agencies across the country that partnered with the Foundation’s All Children – All Families (ACAF) project to improve the services they provide to the LGBTQ community.

“Texas CASA is committed to our vision of a safe, positive future for all Texas children – and that means children of all identities and expressions,” said Vicki Spriggs, Texas CASA CEO. “We are proud to participate in the ACAF project year after year as our organization continues to grow and improve.”

LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system, both in Texas and nationwide. In fact, according to a recent study, more than 30% of youth in care identify as LGBTQ, compared to about 11% of the general youth population. This disparity is due in large part to the fact that for children, coming out to family members can lead to verbal and physical harassment, abuse and even full-on rejection, making them more likely than their non-LGBTQ peers to experience homelessness and/or end up in foster care.

Once they are in care, these youth face all the same challenges and barriers their non-LGBTQ peers face, such as dealing with trauma, placement changes, falling behind in school, mental health challenges and more – but with the added layer of fear of further rejection, abuse and harassment if they are open about their LGBTQ identity.

“LGBTQ youth in foster care are especially vulnerable and at an even higher risk of negative outcomes,” said Emma Ledford, Texas CASA Communications Specialist and LGBTQ Staff Advocate. “So it’s critical that CASA and others who serve these children understand this, and know what to do when it comes to meeting their needs, keeping them safe and helping them thrive.”

All Children – All Families seeks to improve practice with these youth by promoting LGBTQ-inclusive policies and affirming practices among child welfare agencies through an annual engagement cycle. Beginning in May of each year, ACAF participants measure their current level of LGBTQ inclusion through an online Agency Self-Assessment, which focuses on seven key policy and practice benchmarks:

  1. Non-Discrimination
  2. Staff Training
  3. Rolling Out the Welcome Mat
  4. Parent Best Practices
  5. Youth Best Practices
  6. Sustainability & Capacity Building
  7. Leadership & Innovation

Agencies participating in ACAF for the first time work to improve their policies and practices, with ACAF’s expert assistance, until all benchmarks are met. Agencies renewing their ACAF seal also complete the Self-Assessment, with the purpose of demonstrating their continued commitment and leadership, and finding areas where they can improve. Texas CASA was proud to have been one of the first two organizations in Texas, and only the second CASA organization nationally, to receive the ACAF Seal of Recognition in 2016. In an effort led by Ledford, Texas CASA has renewed its seal each year since, as an important part of the organization’s efforts to continue strengthening its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Texas CASA’s ongoing participation in ACAF directly reflects our continuing efforts to create a safer, more welcoming office environment, as well as our work with the local CASA programs to provide the highest quality advocacy for all children and youth in care,” said Ledford.

Participating agencies are recognized by ACAF at three different tiers of inclusion, depending on the extent to which they have implemented LGBTQ inclusive policies and affirming practices. The three tiers are:

  1. Building a Foundation for Inclusion (14 organizations): At this level, agencies are at the early stages of policy and practice implementation. Benchmarks focus on establishing non-discrimination protections, providing staff with online learning related to LGBTQ inclusion and improving LGBTQ inclusion in forms, paperwork and messaging.
  2. Solid Foundation for Inclusion (25 organizations): At this level, agencies have implemented the essential elements of LGBTQ inclusion in policies and affirming practices. Benchmarks go beyond basic non-discrimination protections, to the policies and practices necessary to actively “roll out the welcome mat” to the LGBTQ community. These agencies have also assessed their practices specific to youth and parents to ensure LGBTQ inclusion and acted to make these efforts sustainable for the long-term.
  3. Innovative Inclusion (32 organizations): At this level, agencies are pushing themselves beyond the solid foundation they have built and implementing innovative approaches to LGBTQ inclusion in each of the key areas. Benchmarks at this level also require agencies to look outside their own policies and practices and demonstrate leadership in areas like policy advocacy or organizational partnerships.

“We’re honored to have received the highest level of recognition from ACAF this year, but really, our work is just getting started,” said Ledford. “There are many steps we can still take, both inside and outside the Texas CASA office, to further demonstrate and strengthen our commitment to equality.”

Since 2007, hundreds of child welfare agencies across the U.S. have used ACAF’s resources to enhance their efforts to achieve safety, permanency and well-being for LGBTQ youth and families. You can learn more about the more than 70 agencies currently participating in ACAF in their 2019 Report: Celebrating Everyday Change-Makers in Child Welfare.

“Thousands of committed professionals – from frontline workers to executives – know that LGBTQ youth are perfect just the way they are and that removing barriers for potentially qualified LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents is in the best interest of children,” said Alison Delpercio, Director of the HRC Foundation’s ACAF Project. “While some of these agencies are taking their first steps toward inclusion and others have been leaders in innovating new approaches, more agencies should look to the policies and practices these organizations are implementing to protect against anti-LGBTQ discrimination and meaningfully engage their communities.”

Texas CASA encourages CASA programs and other child welfare organizations to consider participating in ACAF! Interested? Visit the ACAF website to learn more, including how your organization can request to participate. ACAF also offers a CASA-specific guide to their seven benchmarks of LGBTQ inclusion, as well as as well as free resources for child welfare professionals.