We do not know as much as we should about LGBTQ+ young people and their experiences in foster or residential care - neither in practice nor in policy. These young people are disproportionately overrepresented and face greater health, mental health and wellbeing inequalities when compared to their non-LGBTQ+ peers in care.
University of Birmingham researchers and others found that LGBTQ+ young people experience stigma and discrimination in foster and residential care - from social workers, foster carers, and residential workers; they also had more placement moves resulting in greater disruption to their education and mental healthcare.
Three groups of LGBTQ+ young people have greater challenges than other LGBTQ+ young people: trans and nonbinary young people, those from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds, and lesbians and bisexual girls, all of whom face much higher levels of discrimination and victimisation in social care settings.
Knowledgeable and affirming care professionals are hugely important to the resilience of this group, but many professionals report inadequate knowledge to effectively support LGBTQ+ young people - particularly trans and nonbinary young people.Dr Jason Schaub, Prof. Paul Montgomery, and Dr Willem Stander -University of Birmingham, with Dr Jolie Keemink Stonewall
Knowledgeable and affirming care professionals are hugely important to the resilience of this group, but many professionals report inadequate knowledge to effectively support LGBTQ+ young people - particularly trans and nonbinary young people. This affects their confidence to work with a highly marginalised group of young people. Social workers have a commitment to the values of anti-discriminatory practice and they receive equality, diversity and inclusion training as part of qualifying, as well as part of organisational continuing professional development. However, specific LGBTQ+ training is not mandated for practising social workers, or social workers in training.
New research demonstrates that training can have a significant impact on the preparedness of social workers to work with and better support LGBTQ+ young people. University of Birmingham researchers worked with Stonewall, a leading LGBTQ+ human rights charity, to test the effectiveness of an e-learning training module for children and young people’s services staff which is already widely used by 39 English local authorities.
614 social workers from across England took part in the trial study, which provided social workers with the online training. These social workers were then surveyed to test their knowledge, attitudes and ask about their confidence in working with LGBTQ+ young people. The survey was benchmarked against the Habarth Heteronormativity Attitudes and Beliefs Scale and a LGBTQ+ Knowledge Scale. This is a substantial number of participants from a profession that often struggles to take part in research and trials.
The research revealed that the social workers who took the training felt more confident about their ability to support LGBTQ+ young people in social care settings. They had statistically significant scores on both the Heteronormativity Attitudes and Beliefs Scale and LGBTQ+ Knowledge Scale. This means participants demonstrated increased knowledge about, and improved attitudes towards, LGBTQ+ young people.
To improve the experiences of LGBTQ+ young in care, our researchers call on policymakers to implement effective LGBTQ+ training for all qualified children’s social workers, including social work qualifying courses. Our findings demonstrate that impactful changes can be made through evidence-based, cost-effective, and easily scalable training interventions, such as the one examined here.
Currently, the social care system struggles to the meet the needs of LGBTQ+ young people. We demonstrate that comprehensive LGBTQ+ training for social workers can have a significant impact on the professionals that support these often-vulnerable young people, as well as equipping social workers with the knowledge and confidence needed to meet their unique needs.