As many as one of every four youths in county juvenile detention centers is homosexual, yet training for dealing with such youngsters is "woefully inadequate," a social worker has told Los Angeles County juvenile officials.
"The staff at juvenile halls is not only not trained, they're frightened" by homosexual youngsters, said Teresa DeCrescenzo, a clinical social worker who also is board president of the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center in West Hollywood.
Difficult to Place
DeCrescenzo said no statistics are kept, but she estimates that between 15% and 25% of the more than 1,500 juveniles in county detention facilities are gay or lesbian.
She said that between 10% and 12% of the adult population is homosexual. But the percentage is higher for institutionalized juveniles because many are "throwaways"--youngsters who run away or are thrown out of their homes by parents because of their homosexuality.
They are difficult to place in foster or group homes, forcing the county to keep them in its institutions, she said.
Juvenile hall staffs have to understand that homosexuality "is not a scarlet letter," DeCrescenzo said in an appearance before the county Commission for Children's Services. She said workers at juvenile halls and MacLaren Children's Center are often "full of misinformation" and believe that youngsters have to be talked out of homosexuality if they admit to being gay or lesbian.
"They need to be in a special atmosphere where they're not going to be cut off by peers or staff who say, 'I don't want to bother with that queer stuff,' " DeCrescenzo said. "We're just talking about a place for them to explore their feelings."
Dealing with such homosexual youths is critical, she said, because there are few group or foster homes willing to take them and they end up staying longer in juvenile halls.
Many group homes "put it right there in their program statement. They will not allow homosexual juveniles because they stir up a lot of stuff. Their very existence is provocative to other youngsters." Placing them in individual households is also difficult.
John Brown, director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Service Center, said the county Department of Public Social Services prohibits placing homosexual youths in gay or lesbian households. Those youngsters can be placed in homosexual households by private agencies, but the foster parents who accept them do not receive county financial aid, he said.
Brown helps operate two of the few group homes for homosexual youths, but they house only six youngsters each. DeCrescenzo said she believes that workers in county detention centers are eager to learn how to help homosexual youths. She said she recently met with MacLaren staff members and "they were very responsive; they're hungry for this information."