Terry: Idaho as a whole I would say is a pretty conservative and relatively religious state. I spent about six years in the Child Welfare/Foster Care system from about age 12 to 18. After I graduated high school, I did college for a little bit and then I joined the United States Navy as a damage controlman and served for four years. Then I’m back continuing my bachelors in social work at Boise State University. Throughout my six years, I lived in over 20 different placements. At the time, I wasn’t out yet. Previous foster parents would talk to future foster parents, which in turn kind of caused myself to be treated differently compared to my foster brothers and sisters.
I actually had one foster parent that explicitly told me that gay people were sinners without any direction in life. Now as an adult, even I can say that it’s still ingrained into part of who I am. I identify as spiritual and I believe in God. But just about every long-term placement that I lived in, with the exception of my grandparents, were all extremely Christian religious placements. There were actually times in multiple placements where unless I went to church, I would be restricted from hanging out with friends or extracurricular activities. Religious beliefs were kind of pushed onto me at a young age.
Youth are going into the child welfare system have already experienced some sort of or multiple forms of trauma. But then have another person’s beliefs and values pushed onto you, it can affect the individual or the children that are in your care as you’re being told that your opinions don’t matter on a certain issue and that you can’t have your own specific beliefs, that you have to conform to your foster parent’s beliefs. It can have a negative impact on your self-esteem and your self-worth. Had I had the support that I needed growing up, outlooks on life would have been drastically different.
I did an internship this summer in D.C. and I focused on LGBTQ+ rights and the need for more LGBTQ+ parents to foster children in the system. Study show that about one of every five youth identify as LGBTQ+ that is within the child welfare system. One of the recommendations to congress is to pass the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. It would make sense to me anyway that we should have more families and more caregivers that can provide and be inclusive for those that are in care struggling with identity. We need more support from the LGBTQ+ community and to get that, we need to ensure that families and individuals who are trying to become licensed as foster parents are able to succeed so that we can support our youth.
Everything that I’ve experienced I’ve experienced for a reason. I just want to provide positive influence for youth in care.
“Gay people are sinners who have no direction in life.”
Terry Scraggins specifically remembers hearing phrases just like this throughout his six years in foster care — one of the many experiences that lead him to become an advocate for LGBTQ foster youth.
Scraggins, a U.S. Navy Veteran currently pursuing a bachelor’s of social work degree at Boise State University, spent his summer in a joint internship between the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Senator Wyden’s office (D-Oregon), and the Senate Finance Committee. Over the summer, he shared his story with policymakers and advocated for the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which would eliminate anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the child welfare system.
Scraggins’ story underscores the need for more comprehensive inclusivity training for foster care parents and child placing agencies. Growing up both LGBTQ and biracial in Idaho, where African Americans make up less than 1% of the state’s population, Scraggins constantly encountered people who did not know how to support his growth and development. Youth of color are over-represented in the child welfare system, as are LGBTQ youth. According to a recent study, nearly one out of every five youth in the foster care system identify as LGBTQ.
The Every Child Deserves a Family Act stresses that welfare decisions should be made in the best interest of the child, which is not what happened in Scraggins’ case. He recounts not only being shamed for his sexuality, but also forced into following his foster parents’ religious practices and beliefs. During his six years in foster care, Terry was placed with over 20 different families — an experience not unique amongst LGBTQ youth. Studies estimate that 19.6 percent of LGBTQ youth are moved away from their first foster family placement because of a caregiver request.
These days for Terry, it’s eyes on the prize, as he continues to work towards his bachelor’s degree, and eventually a masters in social work. He also hopes to one day become a foster parent, something he strongly advocates that more LGBTQ people should do.