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Creating Safer Spaces: Our Approach to Foster Parenting

Author: Carrie Kountz
Carrie is a foster parent at The Buckeye Ranch and the Founder of The Unbound Collaborative

My husband, Zach, and I have been foster parents for six years, accepting placements and offering respite for many children with help from The Buckeye Ranch’s Foster Care team. Our family also includes our son, Shephard, who welcomes youth we foster with us. Most recently, we fostered a transgender 16-year-old. Fostering an LGBTQIA+ child was a meaningful experience for us because we learned a lot about developing connected parent/child relationships in any scenario. 

Although we have always been proud allies, this was the first time we had officially welcomed an LGBTQIA+ child into our family. Being a child in the foster care system can already be a complex, scary experience. Adding on the day-to-day complications and discrimination that some LGBTQIA+ children face can cause fear and anxiety around being accepted in their new world. According to The Trevor Project’s 2024 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQIA+ Young People, 39% of LGBTQIA+ young people seriously considered attempting suicide in the last year. 66% report experiencing symptoms of anxiety, and 53% report experiencing depression. The report also shows that LGBTQIA+ youth who live in affirming homes and communities experience these mental health challenges in much lower numbers. We knew we needed to create a space where that was possible for every youth we foster.  

Advocating for LGBTQIA+ Youth in Your Care

We were proud to be able to advocate on behalf of our foster daughter with her school, her job, and her extracurricular activities to help make those spaces safer for her as well. We had meetings with her school counselors to discuss school regulations about which bathroom she should use, and who to go to if she experiences bullying or negative behaviors from other students. We talked to the manager at her summer job to make sure that they had processes in place if a customer in the business were to say something negative to her. And we were careful to talk to all leaders and coaches at her extracurriculars to be sure that those adults were advocating for her while we couldn’t be there. 

Helping LGBTQIA+ Youth in Your Care Establish Community

During her placement with us, she attended church with our family, got involved in youth group and went to summer camp with her new friends. We were able to support her as she navigated life, just like we would with any child in our care. As a teenager, she needed lessons on money, independence, and budgeting. She attended classes on some things, and we worked with her at home on other things. Mostly, she needed to know that she was loved, that she was supported, and that she belonged. As humans, we all need these things to thrive.  

The reality is, LGBTQIA+ children need the same things as any other child in foster care – parents who are patient, who listen to them and who love them for who they are. And importantly, they need to spend quality time in families who make sure spaces they’re in are safe, but also whose focus isn’t solely on their LGBTQIA+ identity. These children are happy, creative, smart and caring people, who simply need to be welcomed as part of a stable family. Their LGBTQIA+ status is not the only thing that defines them. They are just kids. Like all children, they are in the process of figuring out where they fit in the world, and it’s the responsibility of the foster parents to guide them in love. 

Creating Safety Through Conversation for LGBTQIA+ Youth in Your Care

I believe that defending, protecting and building relationships with children is the calling of every foster parent. One thing that helped us understand our foster daughter and parent her better was to keep open communication with her. Every Sunday night, we met with her to talk through how things were going in her life, what was coming up, what was making her anxious, and what she was excited about. At the end of this time together, we always asked her one question: ‘Is there anything you want to talk to us about, but you’re not sure how? Or, is there anything you want to ask, but you’re afraid?’  Sometimes she would bring up a hard topic, sometimes not. But it always gave her a safe space to be honest with us, and it always guided us in how to parent her better. 

Fostering LGBTQIA+ youth was a rewarding experience for us. It made us better foster parents, and overall, it made us better, more empathetic people. But, it’s important for foster parents to remember that being part of the LGBTQIA+ community is just one of the facets of the child’s identity. There is so much more to who they are – they are someone’s biological child, a foster child, a sibling, they have an ethnicity, a religion, an age, maybe a diagnosis, and so much more. They need parents to allow them to be who they are, which may shift over time as they grow into their identity and discover themselves. Parents should not expect them to hide parts of who they are to be accepted into the foster family. No child should have to hold back their personality to belong, and it’s our responsibility as parents to provide safe spaces for them, even (and especially) when it stretches us outside of our comfort zones. 

You can Change the Life of an LGBTQIA+ Youth, Too

This month and every month, I encourage you to think about how you can change the life of a youth in foster care. Whether that is providing much-needed respite care for current foster parents or becoming a foster parent and potentially even fostering an LGBTQIA+ child. You can change that child’s trajectory, and odds are they will transform your life for the better more than you could have ever expected.  

In the state of Ohio, there are nearly 17,000 young people in foster care, with only 7,000 licensed foster parents across the state. These youth need you, and The Buckeye Ranch can help you be a part of the solution in our community. With help from The Buckeye Ranch, you’ll receive specific gender-affirming training along your journey, and 24/7 support on how to ensure you’re receiving the support you need to be the best foster parent you can be. Learn more and take the steps to become a foster parent today by visiting their website today.