Committed to securing basic rights plus fair and equal access to services for the LGBTQ community
Teresa DeCrescenzo received her MSW from the University of Southern California (USC) in 1978. She began her social work career at the Dorothy F. Kirby Center, where she developed innovative approaches to residential treatment, providing direct services to incarcerated adolescent girls and boys in a milieu-based treatment program that served as the model for the later development of Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services (GLASS).
She organized numerous LGBT advocacy groups, and with her late partner, pioneering LGBT same-sex marriage advocate and writer Betty Berzon, DeCrescenzo founded GLASS, the first non-profit child welfare agency dedicated to serving LGBTQ children in the foster care and probation systems. Established at a time when homosexuality was still identified as mental illness and/or criminal behavior, GLASS served as a safe haven for LGBTQ children caught up in the child protection system.
Over a period of 25 years, GLASS grew to include more than 150 employees, served thousands of LGBTQ children and their families, and included programs such as the mobile medical unit, nine therapeutic group homes, three foster-family programs, vocational training, and transitional living, and established the national standard for best practices with LGBT youth. GLASS received numerous awards, including recognition by the United States Congress for its Mobile Health Outreach Project as a program of national significance.
After the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services removed a child from a foster home because the foster mother was a lesbian, DeCrescenzo lobbied for the right of LGBT families to provide foster care and to become adoptive parents. Strong believers in the feminist principle that the personal is political, DeCrescenzo and Berzon successfully sued the Automobile Club of Southern California for same-sex couple insurance rights and TWA Airlines for spousal membership in its Ambassadors Club. They also demanded that Cedars-Sinai Hospital recognize same-sex relationships on its admissions forms, which led to a statewide regulatory change that now requires all hospitals in California to honor same-sex relationships.
DeCrescenzo has served on various boards and commissions, including the West Hollywood Human Services Commission, the Los Angeles County HIV Commission, the Los Angeles County Children’s Planning Council, and the Executive Planning Committee of ICAN. She is a former chair of the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS). She is in demand as a keynote speaker and presenter at conferences and seminars throughout the country, has edited two books, and contributed numerous chapters to textbooks, journals and anthologies.
Honored by the USC School of Social Work with the Most Distinguished Alumni Award in 1991, DeCrescenzo also received the Knee-Whitman Award for Impact on Mental Health Policy, the National Child Labor Committee Lewis Hine Award for distinguished service to children, and the NASW-California Chapter’s Lifetime Achievement Award, among others. She has been adjunct faculty in the California State University system for nearly 20 years and is currently teaching policy and practice at California State University, Northridge.
DeCrescenzo’s vision for youth in foster and probation care, plus her tenacity and strong advocacy skills, effected long-term systems change in the delivery of service to LGBQ youth.