We’re so pleased to welcome author Heidi Cullinan today on the tour for her latest novel, Enjoy the Dance, book two in the Dance series. Heidi’s offering a couple of ways to win some great prizes, so be sure to check out the Rafflecopter widgets below after you enjoy her interview with Penny McGee.
Interviews are a staple of blog tours, but this time I’d like to shake things up, because while I did my homework as best I could to write Enjoy the Dance, I’m by no means an expert. I wanted to let you hear from some people who know a lot more than me about the subjects touched on in the story, and one of those people is Penny McGee, Recruitment and Retention Manager at Iowa Kids Net.
Hi, Penny. Thanks for letting me interview you. Will you tell us a little bit about you and the organization(s) you work for?
Iowa KidsNet is a collaboration of non-profit organizations that came together to form the project known as Iowa KidsNet. Iowa KidsNet is contracted to the Iowa Department of Human Services and tasked with recruiting, training, licensing, and supporting foster and adoptive families in all 99 Iowa Counties. In my role as the Recruitment and Retention Manager for Iowa KidsNet, I am responsible for oversight of all aspects of foster/adoptive family recruitment, pre-service training, the licensing process, the on-going support of foster/adoptive families, and the licensure renewal process for families. My spouse and I served as foster parents in Iowa for approximately 5 years, and I have been with Iowa KidsNet since 2011.
What do you feel is the most crucial need for LGBTQ youth in the Midwest (or anywhere) right now?
I believe all LGBTQ youth deserve and have a right to experience environments in which their identities are acknowledged and affirmed. I believe all LGBTQ youth have the right to experience environments free of identity-based discrimination, hostility, and violence. I believe all LGBTQ youth deserve to experience environments that are physically, emotionally, and psychologically safe and inclusive.
However, my primary concern is for the LGBTQ youth who are the most vulnerable, and those are the youth who are in foster care, group care, detention centers, some other form of out-of-home care, and/or those experiencing homelessness.
Historically Iowa has about 10,000 children and youth that are in some way involved with DHS (Department of Human Services) and the child welfare system annually. This includes children and youth receiving prevention services so that they can remain in the family home, and those that are being served in a setting outside of the family home. About 1/3 of that 10,000 are youth ages 10 and older. An additional 2,000-3,000 are involved with the juvenile justice system in some manner, and better than 97% of those youth are age 10 and older.
National studies suggest that in the average demographic of youth age 10 and older, approximately 7-9% will identify as LGBTQ. However, LGBTQ youth are drastically over-represented in the child welfare system. Approximately 20% of youth that are DHS involved that are age 10 or older identify as LGBTQ. The numbers are even more disproportionate in the juvenile justice system, suggesting that 20-25% of system involved youth identify as LGBTQ.
While there are no specific numbers for Iowa, due to the fact that gender identity and sexual orientation data is not collected for either of these major systems of care, we can use these national estimates to extrapolate that Iowa probably has anywhere from 800-1100 LGBTQ identified youth who are system involved annually. While Iowa has a general non-discrimination statute, and most facilities are in the process of becoming compliant with the most basic elements of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, there are no other pieces of legislation or even state policies that direct that LGBTQ youth must be served in a manner that is affirming of their identity. In most cases, it isn’t that there are laws or policies that are directly or intentionally hostile to LGBTQ identities. The problem is omission, or in other words, there are no codes, statutes, or policy and practice directives that ensure that services are LGBTQ competent and affirming.
Keep reading this interview at Penny Reads Romance as the blog tour continues.
About the Book
Dance with your heart, and love will follow.
Kindergarten teacher Spenser Harris has carved a quiet, stable future out of his tumultuous past, but his world turns upside down the night a homeless teen appears on his doorstep—a boy whose story mirrors the one Spenser has worked so hard to overcome. The decision to shelter Duon is easy. What’s tricky is juggling the network of caregivers in Duon’s life, especially Tomás Jimenez.
Tomás wouldn’t have hesitated to take Duon in, but his plate is already full working three jobs to support his family. Though Spenser’s carefully constructed walls are clearly designed to keep the world at bay, Tomás pushes past Spenser’s defenses, determined to ensure the man is worthy of his charge. As the two of them grow closer, Tomás dares to dream of a life beyond his responsibilities, and Spenser begins to believe he might finally find a home of his own after all.
But Spenser and Tomás’s world is poised to crash around their ears. Duon’s grandmother isn’t sure she wants him to be raised by a gay man and challenges Spenser’s custody. Tomás’s undocumented parents could be deported at any time, and all the while the state of Minnesota votes on a constitutional amendment against marriage equality and the US Supreme Court debates whether or not Spenser and Tomás get a happily ever after. All they can do is hold tight to their love, hope for a better future…and remind each other to enjoy the dance.
About the Author
Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, playing with her cats, and watching television with her family. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.