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Coalition Advances Lawsuit Over Trump-Era Rollback of Critical Data Collection Requirements to Protect Vulnerable Populations in Foster Care System

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Trump Admin’s Unlawful Rollback Remains on the Books, Keeping American Indian and Alaska Native Children, LGBTQ+ Foster Youth in the Shadows
May 18, 2021

Yesterday, the California Tribal Families Coalition, the Yurok Tribe, the Cherokee Nation, Facing Foster Care in Alaska, Ark of Freedom Alliance, the Ruth Ellis Center, and True Colors, Inc. pressed forward with their lawsuit challenging a Trump-era rollback of important child welfare data collection requirements. The plaintiffs are represented by Democracy Forward, Lambda Legal, and the Michigan State University College of Law’s Indian Law Clinic.

Last August, the coalition sued Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Administration for Children and Families (ACF) for unlawfully scrapping requirements that child welfare agencies report data about:

  • The self-reported sexual orientation of foster parents, adoptive parents, legal guardians, and youth ages 14 and over;

  • The tribal membership and affiliation of American Indian and Alaska Native children in the child welfare system; and

  • The implementation by those agencies of the Indian Child Welfare Act, which provides important protections designed to prevent American Indian and Alaska Native youth from being unnecessarily removed from their families and tribal communities.

In today’s filing, the groups detail the legal failings of the Trump administration’s rollback, highlight the importance of the scrapped data, and explain why the rollback should be reversed.

The co-counsels for the coalition issued the following statement on the filing of the Motion for Summary Judgment:

The Trump administration’s unlawful rule undermines our ability to understand and serve vulnerable foster youth. We’re continuing our fight in court to reverse this unlawful rollback and protect American Indian and Alaska Native children and LGBTQ+ youth in the foster care system from statistical erasure. The rule is unlawful and must be set aside either by the agency or the court. 

Quote from M. Currey Cook, Senior Counsel and Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project Director at Lambda Legal.

“The Trump administration[CC1]  attempted to erase the identities and experiences of LGBTQ+ and American Indian and Alaska Native youth in foster care by stripping away key child welfare data collection requirements, data critically important to improving their care. This unnecessary and harmful policy decision must be undone and we urge the Court to look at the facts and the law and return to Obama era requirements. The Biden Harris Administration has declared its intent to address race and LGBTQ+ equity and the child welfare system is ground zero for the work. Data is critical to address the over-representation and disproportionately negative outcomes of these vulnerable populations and to shed light on the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth of color in care. As the child welfare system moves to evidence based practices, data is essential to measure what works so children can remain safely with their families or find a another permanent home, avoiding the all-too-common pipeline from group home to homelessness to criminalization and trafficking.”  

Background

In 2016, ACF finalized a rule requiring child welfare agencies to report data on American Indian and Alaska Native children and LGBTQ+ youth and their families in order to better capture the demographic characteristics and experiences of Indian tribes, American Indian and Alaska Native children, LGBTQ+ youth in foster care, and LGBTQ+ foster parents, adoptive parents, and legal guardians. The final rule was the culmination of more than a decade of work, which included thousands of interviews with stakeholders and multiple regulatory comment periods. But, in May 2020, the Trump administration unlawfully eliminated the new data collection requirements. The Trump-era rollback is riddled with errors and violates the Administrative Procedure Act.

Without the collection of this important data, entities that assist these at-risk populations lack the information they need to improve care and outcomes in the foster care system. Organizations providing services to LGBTQ+ youth cannot, for example, determine whether they are reaching the full population of LGBTQ+ youth in the child welfare system, address their over-representation in foster care, determine if they face increased risk of trafficking, or track outcomes by race. Tribes don’t know, for example, if their children are placed in foster care or whether protections afforded by the Indian Child Welfare Act are being followed. And the lack of this data impedes the efforts of organizations that serve tribal LGBTQ+ youth--such as Facing Foster Care in Alaska--to shape policy to better address the needs of the vulnerable youth. This data is needed to better advocate for policies that could better address harm and discrimination related to race and sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, including lack of foster family homes that are consistent with ICWA preferences. 

The coalition’s motion for summary judgment was filed on May 17, 2021. The lawsuit was filed on August 27, 2020, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Read the motion here, and learn more about the lawsuit here.

WATCH: Former foster youth, advocates, and leaders explain the harms caused by the Trump-era rollback

Read more about the case California Tribal Families Coalition v. Azar: https://www.lambdalegal.org/blog/20200827_coalition-sues-trump-administration-statistical-erasure

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Contact Info

Samy Nemir, Lambda Legal, (202) 672-4877, snemir@lambdalegal.org

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