ADVICE FOR CARERS
Creating a safe space for LGBTQIA+ young people in foster care
At a glance
- How likely is it that a young person in foster care might identify as, or come out as, LGBTQIA+?
- How should a foster carer respond if a young person comes out or questions their gender or sexual identity?
- Are there any special safeguarding issues for LGBTQIA+ young people to consider?
- What training and support are available to foster carers looking after LGBTQIA+ young people?
- What’s the most important thing for foster carers to remember if their young person comes out or begins questioning their identity?
It’s hard to get a clear picture of just how many young people identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or asexual, or are questioning their sexual or gender identity. The data on LGBTQIA+ young people is just too hard to collect accurately.
However, one recent study (2021) of 19,000 people aged 16 to 74 from 27 different countries found 18 per cent of Generation Z identify as LGBTQIA+. That’s compared to eight per cent for those from older generations.
At Lika we know, from our own experience, that an increasing number of young people are either identifying as LGBTQIA+ or are at least questioning their sexual or gender identity. If you’re a foster carer, that means there’s a strong likelihood (at least a one in five chance) that at some point you might be invited to welcome a queer or questioning young person into your home.
In this article, Lika Supervising Social Worker Susana Carr looks at how foster carers can create a safe space for young people questioning their sexual or gender identity and answers some of the common questions you might have.
As mentioned above, I think it’s really likely these days, compared to the past. Things have changed a lot. It’s certainly something that comes up very often at a very young age now, for children of school age, because it’s discussed as part of the health curriculum.
For example, I had a young person in placement, who was nine or 10 at the time, come home one day saying they were feeling really nervous and like they wanted to tell their carer something but didn’t know how to. They were feeling really worried about how to bring it up. Then eventually they said, “I think I’m gay. I don’t like the word lesbian, but I think I’m gay”. It actually turned out that most of the kids in her class had identified as something, had suddenly started defining their sexuality or their gender. That’s at primary school age.
Sadly, it’s also more likely that a young person who is LGBTQIA+ might end up in the foster care system, if their birth families are not accepting of their sexual or gender identity.
A young person coming out to you or opening up to you about their questioning of their sexual or gender identity might potentially feel uncomfortable or awkward or even challenging for a foster carer. You might simply not know how to handle the situation — especially if they are very young.
No matter how you feel in that moment, the most appropriate response is one of acceptance. You need to know this in everything from your body language to the words you use. It’s saying, “hey, you’re in a safe space. You’re in a safe place. We can talk about this”.
Lika being a therapeutic agency, and the way we work being based on systemic principles, we would want foster carers to approach the situation from a point of curiosity — to be curious, rather than shutting the conversation down, and to also be nurturing and reassuring to the child so they know they’re safe.
You’re creating a safe space to talk. You don’t have to talk about everything in that moment. Let the young person know you can talk about it over the weeks and months and years ahead, as they want to talk about their identity.
Young people who are questioning their sexual or gender identity but are not getting the support they need at home may well reach out to the wider community to find like-minded people. They may do this on social media or on dating apps, for example.
While there are thousands of wonderful people in the LGBTQIA+ community, using social media to meet people, for example, comes with risks, including grooming. An individual who might present as supportive, who might be saying to the young person “I understand you; you’re safe with me”, could very easily be exploiting that young person’s vulnerabilities.
Lika has now introduced specialist training for foster carers to help them understand and support LGBTQIA+ young people.
This training is also available to support networks, because it’s really important that everyone around the young person also understands how to support them. If a foster carer’s family, for example, was not comfortable supporting a young person who was LGBTQIA+, then we as a foster care agency wouldn’t be comfortable making that placement.
The training will explain how you can create a safe space for your young person, the kinds of things you can do to support them on their journey, safeguarding issues, common mistakes to avoid and the right kind of language to use.
The training is part of Lika’s regular, mandatory training, and is offered every six months or so. It’s just like our cultural awareness training, in the sense that we feel it’s something every foster carer can benefit from.
Our goal is to make sure our foster carers feel empowered and capable of handling these sorts of conversations if and when they come up.
You’re not alone. Your Lika team is here to help you with the support and training you need. Your supervising social worker is there for you when you need them.
In fostering there are lots of situations that come up that might be new to you, as a carer, or might sit uncomfortably with you. Sometimes we need to just sit with our discomfort. A child should never feel that what they’re sharing is making the carer feel uncomfortable. But it’s okay to say you need help and it’s okay to feel uncomfortable.
It’s about getting the right support for yourself so that you do feel comfortable to then be there for your young person.
You really have a lot of power to influence how that child feels about this big part of their identity, and I think that’s really, really important for foster carers to remember.
Even if you aren’t sure how to react, it’s important that you get on board with learning how to react.
If you’re in south or east London and you’re interested in becoming a foster carer, give the helpful team at Lika a call on 020 8667 2111. We’re here to answer all your questions.
We’re in the London boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Bromley, Merton, Lambeth, Westminster, Wandsworth, Lewisham, Southwark, Islington, Camden, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, City of London, Haringey, Newham, Redbridge, and Barking and Dagenham, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea.