Academic journal article Child Welfare

Strengthening the Workforce to Support Youth in Foster Care Who Identify as LGBTQ+ through Increasing LGBTQ+ Competency: Trainers' Experience with Bias

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Strengthening the Workforce to Support Youth in Foster Care Who Identify as LGBTQ+ through Increasing LGBTQ+ Competency: Trainers' Experience with Bias

Article excerpt

Training can be a positive first step towards helping child welfare practitioners serve youth who identify as LGBTQ+ more effectively. However, providing a training for an agency doesn't necessarily mean that anti-LGBTQ+ bias possessed by agency staff will decrease or that their behaviors will change. In this article, we discuss the implementation of our Outreach and Relationship Building (ORB) training as part of the Recognize, Intervene, Support and Empower (RISE) Initiative. We also describe the trainers' experiences with bias in relation to implementing the training with fidelity, discuss the outcomes of the training evaluation, and examine implications for systems of care for children and youth.

Background

Youth who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to experience negative interactions with child welfare professionals than their peers who identify as heterosexual and cisgender (Mallon & Woronoff, 2006). A Williams Institute study found that youth identifying as LGBTQ+ were twice as likely to report poor treatment by the foster care system. The same study found that they were twice as likely to be placed in group homes and three times more likely to be hospitalized for emotional reasons compared to their peers who identify as heterosexual and cisgender (Wilson et al., 2014).

Many LGBTQ+ youth enter foster care for the same reasons as their heterosexual and cisgender peers; however, youth who identify as LGBTQ+ may have the added trauma that comes with being rejected or harassed because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression (SOGIE) (Matarese et al., 2017). Examples of this type of trauma may include the isolation or exclusion of youth who identify as LGBTQ+ from group settings due to an unsubstantiated, stereotypedriven fear that they will be sexually inappropriate with heterosexual and cisgender youth, or youth who identify as LGBTQ+ being blamed for the SOGIE-related harassment and abuse they have experienced (Wilber et al., 2006). Crucial to reunification attempts, practitioners need to be able to provide education, support, and guidance to families of youth who identify as LGBTQ+ (Ryan, 2010). However, personal bias and lack of knowledge might negatively affect the way practitioners work with families who need to learn to support their youth who identify as LGBTQ+. Consequently, if practitioners carry anti-LGBTQ+ bias, it can negatively influence their effectiveness in working with families and achieving reunification goals. Personal bias and/or lack of LGBTQ+ competency from entrusted professionals can have devastating emotional and physical consequences on this population (Ragg, Patrick, & Ziefert, 2006).

The RISE Initiative

As part of the PII research project,1 the Los Angeles LGBT Center developed the RISE Initiative to serve youth who identify as LGBTQ+ in child welfare settings. It is common knowledge that the child welfare system is charged with protecting the safety of young people, along with nurturing their well-being and meeting their long-term needs for safe, stable, loving, and lifelong family connections. However, children and youth who identify as LGBTQ+ are often subjected to anti-gay, anti-transgender, and heteronormative biases within this system.

We at RISE theorized that anti-gay, anti-transgender, and heteronormative biases, along with a general lack of competency in how to serve LGBTQ+ youth, cause many barriers to long-term permanency for this population. Ultimately this results in their overrepresentation among youth in foster care and youth who age out of foster care. The RISE Initiative is grounded in a core belief: If youth in foster care who identify as LGBTQ+ and their families are competently identified and appropriately served, they would achieve safe and stable permanency. To serve youth who identify as LGBTQ+ and their families, we created a Care Coordination Service that provides direct education, counseling, and mentorship to youth who identify as LGBTQ+, while working with families to be more accepting of their LGBTQ+ child, connecting them to resources, and doing extensive family finding. …

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