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Danny O’Keefe is a registered social worker and fellow. He currently works in a mental health social work role for a Youth Justice Service. In this blog, Danny shares the story of a young man who confided in him about his sexuality. Drawing from this experience, Danny provides valuable tips and insights for social workers on how to create a safe, affirming and inclusive environment for queer and questioning young people.

In my practice, I worked with a young man who was questioning his sexuality. I shared that I myself was gay, which helped him know that I was a safe person to speak to and someone who will not judge.

The young man had significant worries about how others would perceive him, as well as fears of homophobia or hate crimes taking place on the street. This was impacting not only his self-esteem but also his ability to go out and feel safe in public.

Through sharing my own experience, I explained to him how queer people can live full and happy lives despite the prejudice that the queer community face. From our conversation he felt more prepared and reassured about his feelings and exploring his identity.

Here are four key principles that we social workers should follow when supporting queer and questioning young people.

Acknowledge difference

When you are supporting a child who is queer or questioning it is so important to first acknowledge the young person’s difference, don’t dismiss it. Social workers should provide a safe and open space for a young person to explore their identity, and this should be done in collaboration with them, not to them. Use active listening to really hear what the young person is telling you about their identity.

Remain unbiased and non-judgmental

Remain unbiased and non-judgmental, focusing on understanding and supporting children without letting personal beliefs or societal biases influence your practice. This ensures that they feel understood and provides them with a safe space for them to confide about their feelings and identity. If a young person shares their pronouns and chosen name with you, make sure you use them. This point around names and identity can often be trivialised but remind people that pronouns have always existed and language, like people, can change.

Confidentiality is key

Confidentiality is another critical aspect that is important. Queerness is not inherently a safeguarding issue and should not be automatically shared with parents or carers. Sometimes, sharing this information can be difficult due to family cultural or religious beliefs.

Social workers must prioritise the child’s safety and only share such information when it’s linked with causing potential harm to a young person. For example, if a young person is made vulnerable to abuse and exploitation through accessing adult dating sites. A parent or carer will need to know how to safeguard their child in circumstances such as these.

It’s your responsibility to educate yourself!

Most importantly, educate yourself. It is not the responsibility of the queer or questioning person to do this. It is extremely important for social workers to understand what makes being queer ‘different’ and to understand society’s structures of sexuality and gender and how these structures keep heteronormativity and cisnormativity in place.

As we acknowledge Pride in the month of June, let’s remember that visibility is crucial, all year round. It’s important that we make it known that our local authorities and organisations accept and embrace difference. By encouraging and celebrating diversity, we can actively combat negative narratives that demonise the queer community. Difference should be embraced, not feared.

Danny’s workshop, ‘Curious about Queerness’, is dedicated to raising awareness about the Queer community and specifically enhancing practitioner’s skills in working with Queer and Questioning young people through encouraging systemic curiosity. If you wanted to get in touch regarding the workshop or have any LGBTQIA+ related questions you can email