ACS Honors LGBTQ Foster Care Leaders
Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner Ronald E. Richter celebrated National Foster Care Month by honoring outstanding foster care leaders and organizations who through their leadership, contributions, and achievements have shown a commitment to promoting inclusive and safe environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (LGBTQ) children, young people, within NYC foster care settings and their families. The special event was the inaugural LGBTQ & Ally Awards Ceremony held on Thursday, May 16 at the Surrogate’s Court in Lower Manhattan.
Commissioner Ronald E. Richter addressing the LGBTQ & Ally Awards ceremony.
In his address to the honorees and their families and key stakeholders present, Commissioner Richter said that ACS has made important strides in addressing the needs of the LGBTQ population in foster care. He noted the creation of the LGBTQ Action Group some years ago, resulted in increasing awareness about the needs and concerns of LGBTQ people. From this effort flowed several initiatives including the release of the ACS LGBTQ Strategic Plan and the establishment of the Office of LGBTQ Policy and Practice under the leadership of Rhodes Perry, Senior Advisor for LGBTQ Policy and Practice. The Office serves as the ACS’ principal resource for LGBTQ matters system-wide, with the goal to build the foundation for more inclusive and affirming child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
Since its inception, the Office has overseen the creation of a monitoring and reporting structure for staff, provider agencies, and third parties to report violations of the LGBTQ policy, and receive support to deliver promising and consistent practices; strengthened and continued to build an LGBTQ provider network composed of key leaders from all 32 foster care agencies in NYC, which are charged with assisting in implementing our LGBTQ policy; and developed a LGBTQ training model for ACS and provider staff, which offers on-going skills coaching to equip them with the skills necessary to support LGBTQ children, youth and families. In addition, the Office will launch a refreshed LGBTQ ACS website that will host valuable information for youth, families, and practitioners.
LGBTQ & Ally Awards recipients: Glenda Testone, Executive Director of the Center, NYC LGBT Community Center, Susan Sommer, Senior Counsel and Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal, Karen Freedman, Executive Director, Lawyers For Children, Nancy Chapman, Jarel Melendez, Kim Forte, Supervising Attorney, Legal Aid Society and Shirley Bennett
The Commissioner noted that none of this work would have been possible without the collaboration, commitment, and leadership of our provider partners, and the work of people like those recognized. The honorees are:
Jarel Melendez is a youth advocate at Lawyers for Children, as well as a founding member and leader the Circle of Youth LGBTQ foster care support group. With his leadership and encouragement, many young people have found this support circle as an important entry point to developing leadership and advocacy skills that will ultimately influence and improve the foster care system for other LGBTQ youth.
Shirley Bennett is a foster parent through Jewish Child Care Association (JCCA), and is a role model for our LGBTQ affirming foster parents. While she has been challenged by her children who have had serious histories of trauma, she has never given up on any of them, and she continues to keep her doors open.
Nancy Chapman was selected as an outstanding ACS Staff Leader who led the ACS LGBTQ policy and practice efforts from 2008 to 2012. During this time, she demonstrated an unwavering commitment to LGBTQ children, youth and families. Her passion for supporting LGBTQ children and youth in care continues to be an inspiration for her colleagues.
The Youth in Out-of-Home Project of Lambda Legal has played a crucial role in supporting ACS and providers by offering training and technical assistance to raise awareness and advance reform in child welfare and juvenile justice settings on behalf of LGBTQ children and youth.
The Special Project on Behalf of LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care at Lawyers for Children has collaborated with ACS in helping to move our system to improve services for LGBTQ people. The project is under the leadership of Linda Diaz and Kristin Kimmel, and focuses on three key objectives: 1) assessing the needs of LGBTQ youth in foster care; 2) developing and implementing advocacy plans both for individual children and for system-wide improvements; and 3) informing LGBTQ youth in foster care of their rights.
The Juvenile Rights Practice (JRP) of the Legal Aid Society has been a leader in furthering the rights of LGBTQ youth in our city’s foster care and juvenile justice systems. Through a combination of conducting internal and external cultural competency trainings and proactive policy work, the JRP fights daily to set a high standard of practice for attorneys representing LGBTQ children.
LGBT Foster Care Project of the NYC LGBT Community Center has worked in collaboration with ACS since 2010 to increase the number of affirming homes for all youth with a special emphasis on LGBTQ youth. The project has helped provide LGBTQ inclusive foster parent and Model Approach Partnership in Parenting (MAPP) trainings for foster and adoptive parents, supplemental trainings for agency staff, recruitment of prospective LGBTQ parents to consider fostering, and launched and cultivated an LGBTQ youth speakers bureau to help answer questions of foster parents on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity development.
In addition to the recipients, Commissioner Richter thanked the Cricket Island Foundation, including Executive Director Liz Sak, as well as New Yorkers for Children for their philanthropic support of LGBTQ work. He also recognized City Councilman Danny Dromm, who was a guest at the event, as a valuable partner in government, and a supporter and ally of LGBTQ children and families. The Councilman addressed the audience briefly and expressed his support for the work of ACS in “sending a clear message that we will not tolerate discrimination,” and in celebrating positivity among LGBTQ children, young people and families. Commissioner Richter also thanked the musical group Concerts in the Kitchen – Hunter Jack (violin), (Jillian) Gillian Jackson (cello), and Ian Temple (piano/keyboard) for donating their time and talents in entertaining a very appreciative audience.
Contact: ACS Office of Communications, (212) 341-0999
Photos by Daniel S. Burnstein