Diverse teens laughing together.


Creating a world in which LGBTQ+ youth are supported and nurtured

What We Work For

We help transform child welfare policy and practice to promote the healthy development of LGTBQ+ and gender expansive children and youth.

Child welfare systems as currently designed harm and oppress LGBTQ+ youth. Although all youth in child welfare settings face challenges to their well-being, research shows that LGTBQ+ youth are overrepresented in foster care (with some estimates as high as 32% of the foster care population), and they are disproportionately youth of color. We also know that LGBTQ+ youth are neither consistently supported and affirmed in their identities, nor receiving the supports needed for connection, healing, and thriving. These young people are often in the child welfare system as a result of trauma and rejection by family, peers, and/or community institutions solely because of how they identify or how others perceive them. Often this stigma—and related physical and emotional abuse—leads to youth running away and experiencing homelessness and interaction with other systems.

How We Do It

The getREAL (Recognize. Engage. Affirm. Love.) project works with child welfare agencies to ensure that attention is paid to planning for the healthy sexual and identity development of all children and youth. Along with race, ethnicity, and disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (SOGIE) is part of the identity formation that occurs in adolescence. getREAL works to ensure that all young people feel valued and affirmed to embrace their authentic selves in all aspects of their identity including SOGIE.

getREAL has three core components: supporting site work, building and supporting a national network, and knowledge development for the field. Our ultimate goal is to create lasting policy and practice changes within the nation’s child welfare system to benefit LGBTQ+ and gender expansive youth. This means ending the oppression they experience in a system that should be keeping them safe and promoting their health and achieving a permanent loving living situation.

We believe that all children deserve to have the best and strongest supports as they grow into adulthood. We hope that one day soon—the majority of child welfare systems will know, affirm, and support LGBTQ+ and gender expansive children, youth, and families.

The getREAL project focuses specifically on child welfare systems, but also touches the homeless and juvenile justice systems. We work closely on developing and identifying policies and practices that support LGBTQ+ and gender expansive youth involved in child welfare systems. Our work is grounded in an anti-racist intersectional frame and we intentionally focus on supporting the whole youth in the entirety of their identity.

We work to:

Support state efforts—to collect data, build capacity to support the healthy sexual and identity development of all youth, and scale efforts for a broader reach. 

Build and support a national peer learning network of organizations concerned about the well-being of LGBTQ+ and gender expansive youth in the child welfare system for information-sharing and advocacy efforts.

Develop and share knowledge about tools, strategies, practice, and policies that are promising or have been shown to be effective when working to support the healthy sexual and identity development of children and youth.

Develop policies that are anti-racist and intersectional and that support and affirm LGBTQ+ children, youth, and families involved in public systems

getREAL Allegheny
Guidelines for Managing Information Related to Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression and Identity of Children in Child Welfare Systems, a publication created by the getREAL collaborative, was field-tested in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. CSSP and the Department of Human Services in Allegheny County engaged in a six-year process to implement the Information Guidelines and align policy and practice to support effective future implementation. This effort was evaluated by the Graduate School of Social Work of the University of Houston with the intention of generating knowledge useful for other jurisdictions and the field at large (evaluation report to be released summer 2020).

getREAL California
getREAL California is an ongoing initiative that is a partnership among CSSP, Family Builders by Adoptionthe National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the RISE Initiative of the Los Angeles LGBT Center with goal of integrating a SOGIE framework the Continuum of Care Reform effort and other system change efforts, including the recent move to mandate SOGIE data collection in child welfare statewide.

Our Experts

Bill Bettencourt portrait.

Bill Bettencourt

Senior Fellow
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