Improving the social care experiences of LGBTQ+ youth

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ+) young people in social care have largely been overlooked in research, practice and policy. 

They are more likely to be placed in out-of-home care settings, have longer durations in care, and are less satisfied with their care experiences than their non-LGBTQ+ peers.

New research led by the University of Birmingham seeks to improve the social care experiences of LGBTQ+ children and young people in England. 

The LGBTQ+ Young People in Social Care (LYPSA) research project is a pair of linked studies funded by What Works for Children’s Social Care, funded by the Department for Education.

LYPSA seeks to improve both our understanding of LGBTQ+ young people’s social care experiences and the ways social care supports this vulnerable group. 

Our research team conducted a scoping review of the international research literature. This showed that LGBTQ+ young people face more significant health and wellbeing challenges than their peers while in foster or residential care.

But social workers report lacking the necessary knowledge to meet their needs adequately, often because of not having received appropriate training. 

LGBTQ+ young people experience more placement moves, longer durations in care and heightened educational barriers. 

Our review found that ethnic minority LGBTQ+ youth, lesbian/bisexual girls, and trans and non-binary youth face particular challenges, and social care systems appear especially ill-equipped to meet the needs of transgender and non-binary youth.

Our first study interviewed 20 LGBTQ+ young people about their experiences of residential social care in England. This was the first study of its kind in the UK, and was co-produced with care experienced LGBTQ+ young advisers. 

“Social workers report lacking the necessary knowledge”

Interviews showed that LGBTQ+ youth face ongoing homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, and policing of gender norms, where restrictive gender roles are enforced. 

As a result, LGBTQ+ young people often hide their sexual orientation or gender identity for fear of negative repercussions, and experience a profound sense of isolation and invisibility in care settings. 

One young person commented: “I never came out as non-binary while I was in residential care. But there were quite a lot of issues around gender expression, because I was more comfortable wearing masculine clothes… [but] my support worker was like, ‘You’re not wearing boys’ clothes, you are not buying boys’ clothes, you are not going to the boys’ section at all’. 

“So I ended up buying a couple of sets of boxers. She found out and went ballistic… ‘You need to return these right now’.”

The interviews also showed some positive residential care experiences, specifically for allowing young people the freedom to explore their identity in a safe and affirming space. 

The project’s second study will test an online LGBTQ+ knowledge training programme for children’s social workers. The aim of this accredited e-learning module is to improve social workers’ knowledge and skills in working with LGBTQ+ young people. 

The project team is currently seeking children’s social workers in England to take part. Managers, senior managers and supervising social workers of foster carers are also eligible, provided they are employed by a local authority. 

The module is accredited for continuing professional development (CPD) and will be offered free to participants and their organisations. Participants will also receive a £10 voucher as an incentive to take part. 


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