"It went very well. We had excellent speakers," said Judge William O. Carr, a Harford County Circuit Court administrative judge and chair of the outreach and programming subcommittee of the state Foster Care Court Improvement Project. "They were very enlightening and gave us a lot of ideas on how to proceed."
Antonio Morrell, a 19-year-old foster youth in Prince George's County who identifies as bisexual and spoke at the summit about his experiences, agreed.
"The summit was very informative," said Morrell, a Prince George's County Community College student who has struggled with negative attitudes about his sexuality in the foster system in the past. "The fact that there were judges, masters, directors, social workers and etc. to hear my story was important. They had the chance to hear from youth in and out of care and the many challenges we faced and our opinions on what policies they can improve on."
The summit, held Wednesday, was convened under a federally funded program to improve foster services in the state, and followed a report by the nonprofit Youth Equality Alliance last month that found LGBT kids in the state's foster, juvenile justice and education systems are more vulnerable than their peers.
At the summit, delegations of judges, lawyers, social workers and other court personnel from jurisdictions across the state convened to hear from experts on care for LGBT youth and brainstorm ways to improve local services in their home jurisdictions.
The groups prepared action plans and identified weaknesses in their services, taking advice from experts in the field but also from youth like Morrell.
Carr said a key issue identified during the summit was the need for social workers and others to be more proactive in letting kids know that they will not be treated differently if they identify as LGBT -- so that the kids who need additional help can receive it.
"One of the challenges is to create an environment where the kids feel comfortable," Carr said.
Another need is to convey the same to foster parents and other stakeholders in the system, some of whom have discriminated against LGBT kids in the past.
He said he hopes foster families don't drop out of the state program because of the message that they have to accept LGBT kids, and that they will keep "the same will power and love for taking care of youth" despite their sexual orientation or gender identity.
"I also hope each county will strategically follow through with their action plans," he said, "and I hope my story has inspired them to do so."