In celebration of Pride Month 2021, Dan shares his advice for social workers supporting LGBTQ+ young people. Dan is a care leaver, and now works as a care experienced participation lead with young people in care in the South of England.
As a child growing up in foster care, I was given so many different labels – Looked After Child, challenging, disruptive, difficult to place and having ‘anger issues’, to name a few. These didn’t say anything about me as a person, a child, or an individual – they’re often given to children in care. However, one particular label at the time that I just couldn’t face being given was that I was gay.
Growing up in care is hard for everyone, regardless of your characteristics. I had so many different places that I was supposed to call home, and yet for many years, I had this feeling that I never belonged. I struggled with my sexuality, but didn’t feel it was something I could talk about. I didn’t want there to be another reason why my foster carers wouldn’t want me anymore.
I think a lot of LGBTQ+ young people in care feel like this. They have so much happening in their lives in often a short amount of time, and then having the pressure to ‘come out’ as well is often just too much.
I remember at one foster home, homophobic slurs were thrown around like confetti. I was always asked if I had a girlfriend, or if there were any pretty girls that I liked. I guess that was deemed a standard question to ask a 14-year-old boy.
At the time, media representation of people who were LGBTQ+ was often not great and I wasn’t personally able to identify with any of them. I had a number of professionals involved in my life, but something that stood out to me was I had no social workers who identified as LGBTQ+. This meant I worried they wouldn’t be able to identify with or understand me, and made it so much harder for me to come out because I lacked any kind of support. In my current work, I know I draw from my own experiences when supporting young people.
For many young people, their social worker is often a really key relationship or person in their life. If you’re a professional, you have such an important role to play when it comes to supporting LGBTQ+ looked after children and care leavers.
My advice to you is:
- Be the person who opens up those discussions and conversations. Give young people a safe space to say how they are really feeling. When they are ready, they will start to break down the walls they might have put up to protect themselves.
- Never make assumptions. For some of the young people I work with, they are still working out who they are, so being able to support them by not putting my own unconscious bias onto them I know can often mean a lot.
- Think about your choice of language. For example, when asking personal questions such as “Do you have a girlfriend?”, you could say, “Are you seeing anyone?”
- Educate yourself by seeking out resources and training. Get in touch with the Frontline Fellowship if this is something that you’re interested in via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking back, I wish I had a social worker that was able to see I was struggling, and have that honest conversation with me. These changes may seem small, but they would have meant the world to me and probably made my struggle just that little bit easier. They will mean the world to those LGBTQ+ young people who you are supporting too.
Throughout the year, we share helpful resources to support you on your learning journey. They are free to access and available to all. Visit our resources page to find out more.