Child advocates and religious leaders help LGBTQ youth in foster care

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An unlikely partnership has joined together to protect children in Texas who are struggling through the foster care system. Representatives of the church and state are locking in on children still discovering who they really are.

“Coming into foster care, they are already layered with issues of pain and suffering,” said Dennise Jackson, the recruitment and retention officer with Texas Court Appointed Special Advocates or CASA.

CASA uncovered startling statistics about the children they represent. 

“Trust is such a big deal, feeling safe is a big deal, and if you place LGBTQ youth issues on top of that, its just heavy for these children,” Jackson said. 

One study found around 30 percent of teens in the welfare system will identify as LGBTQ. With more than 52,000 foster kids in Texas, that’s more than 15,000 children still discovering their true identity. 

“So often they are kicked out because they come out,” said Rev. Pepa Paniagua, a pastor for St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Dallas. 

CASA reps say these kids will often have the poorest outcomes, slipping into issues like drugs, depression and homelessness. 

“I had never seen the statistics in front of me on a screen to realize how at-risk LGBTQ children are,” said Rev. Paniaqua. 

The new initiative partners these statewide special advocates with church leaders across the Lone Star State. The goal is to provide a safe space for children to share their feelings and interact with adults who are like them. 

“I didn’t want to necessarily be known as the gay pastor, because I’m just a pastor,” said Rev. Paniagua. “But kids need to see adults like them, that live lives like they are hoping to live, so they know that there is more beyond the teenage angst and the teenage heartbreak and pain.”  

By allowing these communities of faith to join the conversation, foster kids can see a new light and restore belief in themselves. 

“We looked around the table and we said, who is missing? We want them to be able to join us in our mission and cause to provide the best interests for children,” Jackson said. 

Click here to find a local CASA program and become an advocate to change the lives of foster children in the state of Texas a local CASA program. 

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