The study, published in Children and Youth Services Review, found that LGBTQ+ young people face significant health, mental health and well-being inequalities compared to their non-LGBTQ+ peers, whilst living in foster and residential care.
University of Birmingham experts found these inequalities ranged from discrimination from professionals to more placement moves. LGBTQ+ young people also spend more time in care compared to other young people.
Dr Jason Schaub, who led the study, said: “Our research showed that LGBTQ+ young people in care experience discrimination and rejection because of their LGBTQ+ status. It is a key factor in their social care support which is supposed to protect them. The system does not care for these young people effectively which can cause harm to their mental and physical wellbeing.”
These young people are leaving the social care system with higher rates of mental health problems like depression and anxiety. They are also more likely to experience trauma, substance use and be hospitalised for emotional reasons or physical health issues. This is a result of a care system that is struggling to meet the needs of one of its most vulnerable and misunderstood populations.Dr Jason Schaub, Lecturer in Social Work, University of Birmingham
The study also reveals that for some particular groups of LGBTQ+ young people, their experiences in the care system included greater challenges. Trans and nonbinary young people, those from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds, and lesbian and bisexual girls all face much higher levels of discrimination and victimisation whilst living in social care settings.
Dr Schaub continued: “These young people are leaving the social care system with higher rates of mental health problems like depression and anxiety. They are also more likely to experience trauma, substance use and be hospitalised for emotional reasons or physical health issues. This is a result of a care system that is struggling to meet the needs of one of its most vulnerable and misunderstood populations.”
Researchers found that many social workers do not feel confident or knowledgeable enough to support LGBTQ+ young people – many feel they do not have the necessary skills or training, especially for transgender and nonbinary young people in care.
Dr Schaub commented: “A significant concern from our study is that this population is nearly invisible in our social care system. There is very little research on LGBTQ+ specific policies and a significant lack of education on best practices to support these young people.
“This study is the first of its kind to focus exclusively on LGBTQ+ young people in foster and residential care health and wellbeing experiences, and a lot more work is needed to fully understand these problems and experiences.”
The study recommends that policy changes are urgently needed for social care, such as forbidding discrimination of LGBTQ+ young people and offering practical recommendations for foster parents and other caregivers.
Dr Schaub concluded: “Because of their often-challenging family situations, social care can be an important lifeline for many LGBTQ+ young people. Social workers and professionals in social care should be trained and empowered to provide the care and affirmation needed by these young people.
“Mandatory and comprehensive training is urgently needed to equip social care workers to better support LGBTQ+ young people. Our hope is that this study will kick-start a conversation within policy development so that the system does its best for all of those in its care.”