Being in foster care is difficult for any child, but it can be even more challenging for young people that are LGBT in foster care.
It is widely recognised that the LGBTQ+ community is disproportionately affected by mental health issues and higher rates of suicide. Sadly, many young people report feeling the need to hide their gender identity or sexual orientation in their foster homes.
That’s why foster carers must have adequate knowledge and understanding when fostering LGBT youth. Foster carers that are open and accepting of all sexual orientations and gender identities can have a transformative impact on LGBTQ+ youth in foster care. Foster care offers LGBT+ young people in care the secure base that they need to manage stigma and other challenges associated with minority sexual orientation and gender identity.
Foster carers described the importance of offering LGBTQ young people not only the nurturing relationships that all children in care need but also availability, sensitivity and acceptance to help young people manage stigma and other challenges associated with minority sexual orientation and gender identity.
To help, we’ve put together a guide for those who foster LGBT+ youth. This guide will cover things like gender pronouns, gender and sex distinctions, different sexual orientations – and some general tips to help you create a supportive and inclusive environment for your foster child.
How Many LGBT+ Youth Are in Care?
LGBT+ youth are overrepresented in foster care – while they represent an estimated 4.4% of the general population in the UK, the number in foster care is much higher.
Many factors contribute to this discrepancy. LGBT+ youth are more likely to be forced from their homes because of conflicts over sexual orientation or gender identity – in the US, it’s estimated that 26% of youth in foster care have had to leave their homes for this reason.
They are also more likely to be subject to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse from family members (a staggering 30%), and to experience homelessness as a result of their sexual orientation (43% of homeless LGBT+ youth in the US are sleeping rough as their family does not accept them).
The Difference Between Gender & Sex
Gender identity and assigned sex do not have to correlate. People often use these terms interchangeably when, in reality, they represent different things and should be distinguished from one another.
Sex refers to the physical differences between people who are male, female and intersex. A person’s sex is usually assigned at birth based on physiological characteristics, such as genitalia or chromosomes.
In contrast, gender is a social construct. It refers to the role that each sex plays in society, shaping how people behave and present themselves. People may identify with a gender different from the sex they were assigned at birth. Some people do not identify with any gender and are ‘gender-neutral.’
Only an individual can discern what gender they identify with, and this may also change over time.
The Importance of Gender Pronouns
Gender pronouns are the terms that individuals choose to refer to themselves as. These gender pronouns reflect their gender identity – how a person feels about their gender.
Pronouns are usually assumed based on a person’s assigned sex or other perceptions of physical appearance. However, for many people, their appearance or assigned sex may not align with their personal experience of gender.
Depending on their gender identity, people may use different pronouns. Different pronouns that people use include he/him, she/her, or gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them.
LGBT+ youth may identify with different gender pronouns. It’s important that foster carers know and use their young person’s gender pronouns properly; this can reduce the odds of depression and suicide in LGBT+ young people. Being misgendered or misnamed may make your young person feel invalidated and disrespected.
Understanding Sexual Orientation
Sexual orientation refers to who people are sexually attracted to, or who they choose to be in relationships with. Sexual orientation is not a fixed characteristic; it can change over time as a person develops.
Some labels that people use to describe their sexual orientation include:
- Heterosexual (experiencing attraction to people of the opposite gender)
- Gay/Lesbian (experiencing attraction to members of the same gender)
- Bisexual (experiencing attraction to members of both your own gender and to people with genders that are different from your own)
- Asexual (experiencing little or no attraction to others at all)
- Pansexual (experiencing attraction for all members of all gender identities and expressions)
Unfortunately, despite progress in recent years, many people are still discriminated against in the UK as a result of their sexual orientation. When considering how to foster LGBT+ youth, young people must be never made to feel ashamed of their sexual orientation.
Supporting LGBT+ Youth in Foster Care
You can support your foster child in finding their path safely – no matter what it may be – by taking the following steps.
- Don’t make assumptions. Young people may still be figuring out who they are, so create a safe and open environment for them to discover their identity.
- Avoid pushing gender stereotypes. Let your foster child explore their interests without labels.
- Make information easily available. Your foster child may be more comfortable accessing resources independently to start, so having information around the home can make it easier for them to take the first steps on their own. It’s also a great way to promote acceptance and inclusion amongst children who aren’t LGBT+.
- Celebrate differences of all kinds and challenge any homophobic language or behaviours you encounter. This will show your foster child that you accept them as they are (even if they haven’t quite figured out who that is yet).
- Be patient. Coming out is a lifelong process and every child will handle it differently. Allow your foster child to come to you when they’re ready to talk.
Resources For LGBT+ Foster Children and Foster Carers
There are many charities and organisations in the UK dedicated to supporting the LGBT+ community. Some that are particularly great for foster children and their families include:
- LGBT+ Youth in Care has valuable information for LGBT+ youth and foster carers alike.
- Mosaic Trust offers many resources for LGBT+ youth, including youth clubs and mentoring.
- Albert Kennedy Trust supports LGBT+ youth aged 16-25 who are living in crisis.
- The Proud Trust provides support groups, training for schools and other great resources for LGBT+ youth.
Compass Fostering is also paired with New Family Social, a UK based charity led by LGBTQ+ adopters and foster cares. New Family Social provide support, training, and guidance for LGBTQ+ foster carers and social workers that is free to access.
We make it our mission to support diversity and create inclusive environments for all foster children and foster carers. We welcome LGBT foster parents and offer support for foster families that includes training on how to talk to young people about LGBT+ issues.
You could change the life of an LGBT+ child by providing a safe and welcoming foster home. If you’re interested in learning more, please get in touch with our team today.