BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES:
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are suggested to be overrepresented in unstable housing and foster care. In the current study, we assess whether LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in unstable housing and foster care and examine disparities in school functioning, substance use, and mental health for LGBTQ youth versus heterosexual youth in unstable housing and foster care.
A total of 895 218 students (10–18 years old) completed the cross-sectional California Healthy Kids Survey from 2013 to 2015. Surveys were administered in 2641 middle and high schools throughout California. Primary outcome measures included school functioning (eg, school climate, absenteeism), substance use, and mental health.
More youth living in foster care (30.4%) and unstable housing (25.3%) self-identified as LGBTQ than youth in a nationally representative sample (11.2%). Compared with heterosexual youth and youth in stable housing, LGBTQ youth in unstable housing reported poorer school functioning (Bs = –0.10 to 0.40), higher substance use (Bs = 0.26–0.28), and poorer mental health (odds ratios = 0.73–0.80). LGBTQ youth in foster care reported more fights in school (B = 0.16), victimization (B = 0.10), and mental health problems (odds ratios = 0.82–0.73) compared with LGBTQ youth in stable housing and heterosexual youth in foster care.
Disparities for LGBTQ youth are exacerbated when they live in foster care or unstable housing. This points to a need for protections for LGBTQ youth in care and care that is affirming of their sexual orientation and gender identity.