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Health Department proposes nixing data collection on LGBTQ foster youth

The Obama-era rule was intended to help meet the needs of LGBTQ youth in foster care.”

The Department of Health and Human Services announced this week that it intends to ax an Obama-era measure that called for data collection on LGBTQ foster youth and parents.

The data included the sexual orientation and gender identity of youth in foster care, along with their foster parents, adoptive parents or legal guardians.

The stated goal of the rule, adopted in December 2016, at the end of the Obama administration, was “to help meet the needs of LGBTQ youth in foster care.”

The Trump administration delayed its implementation and is now proposing to remove the LGBTQ data elements entirely.

“While we understand the importance of collecting sexual orientation data … we must balance this with the need to collect accurate data per the statue and in a manner that is consistent with children’s treatment needs,” the department said.

A third of states have asked that the requirement be dropped over concerns that collecting data on sexual orientation may be perceived as "intrusive and worrisome to those who have experienced trauma and discrimination as a result of gender identity or sexual orientation,” HHS said.

The proposed rule reversal has raised concerns among many LGBTQ and child welfare advocates who say that current data collection practices leave them in the dark about how many LGBTQ youth there are in care and what unique obstacles they may face.

“Identifying those youth and being able to capture the disparity between non-LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ youth helps states and tribes to understand what their experiences are and be able to devise implement and deploy best practices,” Denise Brogan-Kator, chief policy officer at the LGBTQ advocacy group Family Equality Council, told NBC news.

In a 2014 study funded by HHS, researchers determined that one in five youth in foster care identified as LGBTQ, and they were twice as likely to suffer negative outcomes while in care.

“We knew it anecdotally, but we didn’t have the data to back it up,” Brogan-Kator said of the study’s findings. She added that systematic collection of such data is necessary to improve outcomes for LGBTQ children in care.

“We need to understand why and where those negative experiences occur and where they don’t,” Brogan-Kator added.

More than 40 child welfare organizations have already publicly opposed the rule change, which must go through a public comment period.

Christina Wilson Remlin, lead counsel at Children's Rights, a nonprofit that has publicly opposed the rule reversal, said HSS was failing in its duty to protect children in state care by proposing to stop collecting data on LGBTQ foster youth and prospective parents.

“Many of these children have already been rejected by their families of origin," she said. "We should do everything we can to provide them with safe and loving homes, including recruitment of diverse and affirming foster families.”

Remlin said collecting data on sexual orientation and gender identity is a “critical step toward addressing the needs” of LGBTQ youth and crucial to “holding government agencies accountable.”

“To stop collecting data on LGBTQ foster youth would only serve to render this vulnerable population invisible,” she added.

An official from the HHS Children’s Bureau said the Obama-era rule would have “drastically expanded unnecessary data elements required to be reported by child welfare agencies.”

“The modifications in the proposed rule would allow state and tribal child welfare agencies to focus more of their time and resources on child welfare — from prevention to foster care services to adoption and guardianship — and less on unnecessary data collection and paperwork,” the official said.

Brogan-Kator disagreed.

“It costs states and tribes so much more to deal with the negative outcomes when these youth experience homeless and incarceration,” Brogan-Kator said. “These kinds of burdens are significant. Reducing that will more than offset any extended costs there might be around it.”

This is not the only LGBTQ data the Trump administration is seeking to reverse course on. In 2017, the HHS removed questions about LGBTQ seniors from its annual survey of older Americans. A week later, the administration announced it would not collect information on LGBTQ identification on the 2020 census. And last year, the Department of Justice moved to scrap questions relating to sexual orientation and gender identity on its National Crime Victimization Survey.