(San Francisco, CA, October 11, 2015)—California Governor Jerry Brown today signed a landmark bill that protects transgender children in the foster care system.

Authored by Senator Mark Leno and co-sponsored by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Equality California, and Transgender Law Center, Senate Bill 731 gives all foster children the right to placements consistent with their gender identity. The law goes into effect on January 1, 2016.

When a child enters California’s foster care system, child welfare workers consider a host of factors when choosing an appropriate placement. The Foster Care Bill of Rights gives all foster youth the right to fair and equal access to services and the right to be free from discrimination based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. State law, however, does not provide specific guidance on placing youth who are transgender. SB 731 provides that guidance.

“As a former foster youth who was in the system for 16 years, I am living proof that a supportive environment helps nurture success,” said Kevin West, a Sacramento student and child care provider who entered the foster care system as a toddler. “My caregivers fully embraced my gender identity as a teenager and helped create a situation where other foster kids also accepted me. Not all transgender foster youth have stories like mine, but with this change in law, I’m hopeful they will.”

Studies show that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth are at higher risk for homelessness, victimization, depression, and suicide. Transgender youth in particular are at high risk for poor health outcomes due to the rejection and harassment they face. These risks are magnified for young people in foster care, many of whom have already experienced significant trauma.

“We applaud Governor Brown for signing SB 731 into law.  This bill provides critical guidance to child welfare professionals by making it clear that all children in foster care have the right to placements that are consistent with their gender identity, irrespective of the sex listed in their court or child welfare records,” said NCLR Youth Policy Director Shannan Wilber. “By extending equal treatment to transgender foster children, California once again demonstrates its commitment to achieving safety, permanence, and well-being for all children in the custody of its child welfare system.”

“Young people have a better opportunity to thrive in situations where they are fully accepted and supported for who they are,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “Entering the foster care system is challenging for all youth, but it can actually be damaging for young people whose identities are not affirmed by their caregivers and peers.”

Read more about Senate Bill 731.