By Jalen Wade

BOWIE – The Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC), recognized the Prince George’s County Department of Social Services (PGCDSS) for its hard work in improving access to the LGBTQ community in its All Children-All Families 2019 Report on July 2.

All Children – All families is a project that HRC started back in 2007. According to HRC, the project “promotes LGBTQ inclusive policies and affirming practices among child welfare agencies and formally recognizes those agencies that are leading the field with innovative approaches to inclusion.”

“For years now, the HRC Foundation’s All Children – All Families program has worked side-by-side with Prince George’s County Department of Social Services as the department implements LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices. This partnership deepened when the department became an implementation site for the Quality Improvement Center for LGBTQ2S youth in foster care,” said Alison Delpercio, director of All Children-All Families.

This recognition was garnered due to the exemplary work that the department has done for the LGBTQ community, such as enhancing safety, permanency and well-being for LGBTQ youths and families.

“It is a great honor to be acknowledged by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and to have Nakia Lynch, one of our foster care youth, featured as part of the All-Children – All Families video documentary,” said Department of Social Services Director Gloria Brown Burnett.

Prince George’s was not the only county in Maryland to be recognized as Washington County also received recognition. Prince George’s, however, has been a significant leader in pushing for more considerable efforts in LGBTQ inclusivity according to Stephen Liggett-Creel, chief of staff at the Department of Social Services.

According to Liggett-Creel, the county’s efforts for greater LGBTQ empowerment began over two years ago. Their desire to do more sprang from the fact that they initially couldn’t even identify the number of LGBTQ youth that was in the foster system that they were supposed to be helping.

“We knew that when you look at national data there’s generally this idea that 10% of your population would fit into an LGBTQ identity and in foster care that number can be as high as 20%,” said Liggett-Creel, “We know of a few youths but if we have 500 kids in care, we’re certainly not at a 5% mark.”

LGBTQ youth in the foster care system face several difficulties. Some have struggled with their identities and have been in desperate need of guidance. Others may have been rejected by their families or may have even rejected others because of their orientation.

Because of reasons such as those, the PGCDSS needed to implement several new policies. One of these new policies, which began in August, was to give  counselors training for assisting LGBTQ youths. The HRC helped to formulate this training.

“The first thing we did was train all of our administrators and leadership in the all-family model then we administered the training with all our child welfare staff,” said Liggett-Creel.

He also stated that the training was universal throughout the division as all 250-staff received the training whether they were an administrator, caseworker, someone who drove the kids or if they sat at the front desk.

This training taught how to understand what it was like to be LGBTQ. They later added a second level of training for the social workers who spent one-on-one time with the youths. This training constituted on how to provide service to LGBTQ causes.

“Two years ago, we started everybody, and over the last year, we’ve trained that whole child welfare unit. We’ve taken that training and retooled it so we could begin doing that training for the rest of our agencies,” said Liggett-Creel.

This training is planned to be used for more than the youth. These agencies include groups to help with things such as food stamps and the homeless. Liggett-Creel stated that they plan to have this training rolled out to the agencies by the end of 2019.

According to Liggett-Creel, before the training, many of the workers at the PGCDSS were not used to dealing with LGBTQ kids.

“Many of us are raised to understand a heterosexual biological male who identifies as male. What this training does is help understand, ‘Who am I attracted to?’ It helps you understand that there is gender expression,” said Liggett-Creel.

Since they have started the training, the number of known LGBTQ youths the program currently assists has increased from 15 to 35.

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