P: It’s been my experience people have a lot of misconceptions about what youth homelessness (and even homelessness in general) is. Do you share that experience, and if so, what kind of damage do you feel that does? How do we repair it?
H: Youth homelessness in Iowa is a largely invisible crisis for most of the general population, and can take many forms other than what many would think of as a person living in a tent or cardboard box and panhandling at intersections and highway ramps. Homeless youth under the age of 18 can be youth who have run away, or they can be youth who were ejected from their family homes, often due to LGBTQ identities. Many homeless youth are ages 18-24, and they have aged out of either the child welfare system or the juvenile justice system with no supports or permanent connections.
Homeless youth often “couch surf,” moving from location to location wherever they can find a place to stay and possibly a meal. A lot of homeless youth are forced to engage in survival sex, trading their bodies for a place to stay, or food, or money. Some homeless youth band together and seek shelter in abandoned or empty buildings or homes. Loitering, petty theft, and other survival behaviors often lead homeless youth to have increased contact with law enforcement, and often result in LGBTQ youth being detained and aggressively charged with these crimes. The end result is often the creation of a criminal record that further closes doors to securing employment and stable housing. These homeless youth are especially vulnerable to human traffickers who promise money, clothing, food, protection, and transportation, but whose real motivation is to ruthlessly exploit them for the satisfaction of clients. LGBTQ identified youth are often considered more “valuable” to human traffickers to meet the demands of predators interested in this “niche” market.
Providing street outreach services, affirming shelters, or even finding more stable housing for these youth is essential, but not the only answer. A full array of services such as educational attainment, employment skill training, and basic physical and mental health care must be made widely available to these youth to access without fear of further punitive contact with authorities. Youth who have been human trafficked must be provided for with specialized victim services.
P: My own experience with the foster care system, I used to work for a nonprofit that provides lawyers to kids in foster care, has opened my eyes to a number of things, including how the system itself functions. Would you mind giving a brief overview for the readers, with the caveat you’re describing Iowa’s system and that each state operates differently?
H: Children and youth in Iowa become involved with the child welfare system when they have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect. Severe circumstances can warrant their removal from the family home and placement in foster care or some other type of out of home care setting. At times the youth’s LGBTQ identity can be a factor in these family rejecting crises, at other times a youth’s LGBTQ identity is coincidental and not correlated to the family crisis. Youth may already be aware of his or her LGBTQ identity at the time they become system involved, or they may become aware of their LGBTQ identity after they are already system involved. Most of the time, unless the youth has reached a place of secure confidence in his or her identity journey, and they have a high level of self-advocacy skills, how a youth identifies is completely unknown to the workers representing the system and other service providers. Therefore, it is essential that state laws, codes, policies, and practices ensure that all system involved youth are treated as if they could be LGBTQ. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
While Iowa has a general non-discrimination statute, and most facilities are in the process of becoming compliant with the most basic elements of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, there are no other pieces of legislation or even state policies that direct that LGBTQ youth must be served in a manner that is affirming of their identity. In most cases, it isn’t that there are laws or policies that are directly or intentionally hostile to LGBTQ identities. The problem is omission, or in other words, there are no codes, statutes, or policy and practice directives that ensure that services are LGBTQ competent and affirming. Here are some examples of these omissions that have grave consequences for Iowa’s LGBTQ youth: There is no mandatory training about LGBTQ cultural competence and best practices for Iowa’s Department of Human Services caseworkers and managers, nor is such training required for those employed in the juvenile justice system. There are no guidelines specifying that youth should be placed in a living environment according to their gender identity rather than their anatomical sex, resulting in sometimes terrible consequences for transgender youth in congregate or group care facilities. There are no requirements that foster parents or other service providers must provide affirming care, resulting in abrupt disruptions of otherwise stable placement when a youth’s LGBTQ identity becomes known or suspected by the caregiver. There are no requirements that youth must have access to affirming physical and mental health care. There is no training, oversight, or guidelines regarding how and when service providers should disclose a youth’s LGBTQ identity to others, either verbally or in writing. All of these omissions of policy and best practice result in increased vulnerability for LGBTQ youth being served by this major system of care.
Creation of appropriate inclusive policies along with a robust training program and meaningful enforcement of best practices would result in improved outcomes for LGBTQ youth and their families. At a minimum, Iowa’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems should: require LGBTQ competency pre-service and in-service training for all caseworkers, juvenile justice employees, and service providers; in gender specific living environments, transgender youth should be placed according to his or her gender identity rather than anatomical sex, all service providers should provide care in a non-discriminatory manner and avoid abruptly terminating a youth’s placement when an LGBTQ identity is the sole reason for disruption, LGBTQ youth should not be isolated in living environments even when it is for “their protection,” they should have access to the same type of programming, services, and social opportunities as their heterosexual and gender conforming counterparts, and disclosure of a youth’s identity should not be made without the youth’s informed consent.
Keep reading this interview at Prism Book Alliance as the blog tour continues.
Enjoy the Dance Book Blurb and Links
Dance with your heart, and love will follow.
Kindergarten teacher Spenser Harris has carved a quiet, stable future out of his tumultuous past, but his world turns upside down the night a homeless teen appears on his doorstep—a boy whose story mirrors the one Spenser has worked so hard to overcome. The decision to shelter Duon is easy. What’s tricky is juggling the network of caregivers in Duon’s life, especially Tomás Jimenez.
Tomás wouldn’t have hesitated to take Duon in, but his plate is already full working three jobs to support his family. Though Spenser’s carefully constructed walls are clearly designed to keep the world at bay, Tomás pushes past Spenser’s defenses, determined to ensure the man is worthy of his charge. As the two of them grow closer, Tomás dares to dream of a life beyond his responsibilities, and Spenser begins to believe he might finally find a home of his own after all.
But Spenser and Tomás’s world is poised to crash around their ears. Duon’s grandmother isn’t sure she wants him to be raised by a gay man and challenges Spenser’s custody. Tomás’s undocumented parents could be deported at any time, and all the while the state of Minnesota votes on a constitutional amendment against marriage equality and the US Supreme Court debates whether or not Spenser and Tomás get a happily ever after. All they can do is hold tight to their love, hope for a better future…and remind each other to enjoy the dance.
Audio: Coming late October/early November
About the SERIES
Why Heidi Wrote Enjoy the Dance
When I revisited Dance With Me to release the second edition, I was stunned to see how much the world had changed in the three years since it was first published. Particularly in regards to marriage equality, the story I wrote had become a historical, a novel written for another time. I wanted to explore what it had been like for the characters to live through that crazy transition, to show how much would have changed for the characters in novel in the space between then and now. I also wanted to answer a question readers asked me a lot over the years: “What happened to Duon?”
History of the Dancing Series
Dance With Me for years was a standalone title. First published with Loose Id in 2011, it was re-released as a self-published title in fall of 2015. I’d originally intended to follow it up with a short story a few months later, but that short story became this novel, Enjoy the Dance.
Future Plans for the Series
There will be at least one more novel in the Dancing series, likely released in late 2017 or early 2018. Burn the Floor will be Duon’s story.
Several other books/series I’ve written tie in directly or tangentially into this story.
- Marcus, Ed and Laurie’s lawyer friend who helps Tomás and his family, finds his own HEA in Let It Snow, book one of the Minnesota Christmas series.
- Arthur and Paul, Marcus’s friends from Logan who show up at the Duluth car wrapping, find their true loves in Sleigh Ride and Winter Wonderland, books two and three of the Minnesota Christmas series.
- Ed and Laurie appear in Lonely Hearts, book three of the Love Lessons series.
Giveaway!! The Enjoy the Dance Book Tour Grand Prize
Enjoy the Dance Prize Pack: Enjoy the Dance paperback, Dance with Me paperback, No House To Call My Home paperback, MIKA The Origin of Love CD, a box of Lady Grey tea, a bottle of Tajìn seasoning
Rafflecopter link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/bc7416c227/