A study of the experiences and identity development of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender young people in care and the support they receive

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: School of Social Work

Abstract

There have been no major published research studies on the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) young people in care in the UK and the services that may be needed to support them. Even in the most recent Care Planning Guidance (DCSF 2010a), sexual orientation and gender identity are not mentioned as issues that may need to be taken into account in ensuring the well-being of young people in care. This is a matter for concern when research suggests that both LGBT young people and young people in care are at risk of stigma, discrimination, bullying and mental health difficulties. There is the potential, therefore, for LGBT young people in care to face a 'double jeopardy'. This is likely to be especially true in adolescence and when making the transition from care to adulthood, a period known to present challenges in relation to identity formation and forming close relationships, in addition to the practical difficulties of finding housing and employment. However we also need to understand what may promote resilience.

This study's objectives are to investigate how LGBT young people experience growing up in care and how they negotiate their identities. Of particular interest is the exploration of the intersectional relationship between care and LGBT statuses, understood in the context of the multiplicity of other factors, such as ethnicity, experiences of abuse, separation and loss that also affect and contribute to identity formation. The study will also explore the national provision of services and support for LGBT young people in care and will investigate the experiences of foster carers who care for them. A group of young researchers who are care-experienced and/or identify as LGBT will assist with designing recruitment materials, piloting interviews and helping with the analysis and dissemination/impact.

The study will use a mixed methods, layered design to capture the different types of knowledge that are needed.
1. A scoping review of the UK and international policy, research and practice literature relevant to young people in care who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
2. In-depth narrative interviews with a sample of 40 LGBT young people age 16-25 who are currently or were previously in care. This sample will be recruited through multiple routes, including: local authorities; specialist groups for LGBT young people; organisations for young people in care /care leavers; Independent Reviewing Officer organisations; fostering organisations; and snowballing through participants informing other possible participants. The interviews will focus on enabling young people to describe their sense of identity; their experiences in placement; their contact with birth relatives; their relationships with close friends, partners and peer groups; their contact with professionals (e.g. teachers, social workers); and their experience in the wider community. Narrative analysis of the interviews will be used to provide an in-depth and nuanced understanding of identity development.
3. Interviews with 25 foster carers who have experience of caring for LGBT young people. These will provide information from carers about the young people's experiences, but also about how carers see their roles, relationships and the support they need. Data will be analysed thematically using NVivo.
4. A survey of local authority and independent agency policy, provision and practice to identify services available to LGBT young people in care or leaving care.
5. Multi-agency focus groups with a range of professionals, held towards the end of the project, will explore the policy and practice issues emerging from the literature review, survey and qualitative interviews.

The research team has a pathway to impact plan, which will enable findings to achieve impact on outcomes for young people e.g. policy consultation, training materials, practitioner guide, digital technology.

Planned Impact

The most important beneficiaries of the research will be LGBT young people in care and in the transition to adulthood. The research will help policy makers, managers, practitioners and caregivers improve the effectiveness of services and the quality of care for a particular group of young people for whom the state is the 'corporate parent'. Therefore further beneficiaries of the research, in addition to the young people, will be foster carers and residential workers; a wide range of child and family welfare practitioners including IROs; child and family social workers and managers; fostering social workers in the local authority and independent sector; Cafcass children's guardians; child and adolescent mental health services; virtual School heads; lawyers and judges; councillors; and government policy makers.
This research will provide new information, as well as build on and extend other research on children in care undertaken at UEA and elsewhere to improve our understanding of the needs of this particular group of young people in ways that translate into practice. Young people who identify as LGBT will have many of the same needs as all other young people in care - for safety, attachment security, resilience, a sense of belonging, positive identity and self-esteem, good physical and mental health, educational achievement, positive peer relationships and so on. We will learn from this research how the particular intersection of being LGBT and in care is experienced, and helps or hinders the achievement of these psychosocial and developmental goals within the care system.
This knowledge will support foster and residential caregivers as well as a range of professionals in being alert to the experiences of young people and any signs and signals that the young person needs particular support. To achieve this, practice guidance and training materials as well as practitioner appropriate research summaries will be produced. This will be linked to our agreement with BAAF to undertake knowledge transfer through digital technology, publications and conferences/training events. We also have a network of contacts in the local authority sector through Making Research Count. As the majority (76%) of young people in care are in foster care a particular focus will be on messages for foster carer recruitment, preparation, training and support.
Key to ensuring that young people do benefit from the availability of new knowledge and understanding of their experiences is the fact that issues of sexual orientation and gender identity need to be handled sensitively. Questions of confidentiality and of a young person 'coming out' to friends or family are significant for all LGBT young people, but the (at times) public nature of the life of young people in care may create additional challenges to the young person and those closest to him or her. In particular the Looked After Children reviewing system requires a statutory six monthly review process that includes sharing of assessment documentation and a meeting that may include a range of professionals, not all of whom are well-known to the young person. The care planning regulations and guidance (DCSF, 2010a) has indicated that this should be treated as the child's meeting, with the child wishes, feelings and welfare at the heart of the planning. This research will assist LGBT young people in getting their voices heard and help IROs and other professionals in supporting this process.
For professional networks, an additional benefit of the detailed access to LGBT young people's experiences and perspectives is that we will also learn about all of their environments, both within the care system (e.g. LAC reviews) and in the community (e.g. School) and what professional responses worked well or where improvement is needed. This will in turn be built into guidance and on-line training materials that will inform and support best practice to reduce risk and promote resilience.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title SpeakOut 
Description An animation co-produced with six of the young resesarcher team who worked on the ESRC and CLAHRC studies. This film illustrates the experiences of LGBT+ young people growing up in the care system. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Film was launched at Norwich Pride 2018 with a Q&A panel of the young researcher and academic researcher team. Also shown at FAFF film festival in London. Has been used in pilot training materials used with three local authorities and two independent care agencies. 
URL https://vimeo.com/269619322
 
Description This research involved the first national survey of local authorities in England looking at LGBT young people in the care system, and achieved a 78% response rate. The survey found that local authorities did not routinely record sexual orientation or gender identity, the most commonly cited reason was that central government does not require this data. Support for LGBTQ young people was said to be limited by a lack of both knowledge and confidence and local authorities were keen to improve practice.
Focus groups with multi-agency professionals suggested that there may be a tendency for professionals to view sexuality through the lens of risk for young people in care, together with a general cultural unease about talking about sexuality with young people. The importance of in depth exploration of the attitudes of foster carers towards LGBT young people during the approval process was emphasized, since young people in care have often already faced rejection in their lives.
Life history interviews with 46 LGBTQ young people who had lived in care for at least six months were analysed. The majority of young people first came into care as adolescents and across the sample most had experienced abuse or neglect. Managing stigmatised identities (as young people in care, and as LGBTQ young people) was a key task. There was widespread experience of homophobia and transphobia as well as encountering stigma as a child growing up in the care system. Some young people feared that coming out in care would result in rejection and placement breakdown, but for others living in care offered an opportunity to explore their LGBTQ identities. Birth family acceptance of sexual orientation was very important to young people and birth families ranged from accepting to rejecting. A few young people were very clear that their birth families posed a risk and should not be told.
It was hard for trans young people to make sense of their identities growing up and many had come out as LGB at some point prior to coming out as trans. The trans young people were often exploring their gender identity in later adolescence at a time of instability in relation to care placements and leaving care. Many experienced homelessness or extremely unstable accommodation post 16. They felt that leaving care services focused on independent living skills rather than providing a level of nurturance that could help them to explore gender.
Foster carer interviews suggested that there were some core tasks in caring for LGBTQ young people in the care system: accepting young people's sexual orientation/gender identity; communicating openly about LGBTQ identities; protecting young people from stigma and bullying; providing emotional and practical support including supporting young people in their relationships with their birth families; and offering opportunities for the young person to gain a sense of belonging to the LGBTQ community.
The study was innovative in involving six young researchers at all stages in the research process, from design to dissemination. All the young researchers were care experienced and identified as members of the LGBT+ community.
Exploitation Route We have secured funding from NIHR Collaboration for Applied Leadership in Health Research an Care to develop training materials for use by local authorities and independent agencies that will help promote the welfare of LGBTQ young people in the care system and care leavers. These materials will be promoted to improve practice by multi-agency professionals and foster carers who work with young people. We are writing a good practice guide to be published by CoramBAAF in 2018 based on the research. The young researchers who worked on the project will continue to be involved in developing the training and will be developing an animated film to disseminate findings to other young people and professionals. I am presenting the work at conferences of lawyers (July 2017) and social work practitioners (June 2017) and we held a successful stakeholder group with key organisations (including the Government Equalities Office, Stonewall, DfE, NSPCC, CoramBaaf) to discuss emerging findings. The research findings were launched at the annual conference of the Centre for Research on Children and Families in June 2017. Academic articles and a full report of findings are planned. We are publishing a research briefing which will be made available on our website. The findings will be of interest to academics with an interest in the care system, adolescence and LGBTQ identities.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL https://www.uea.ac.uk/speakout
 
Description I have been contracted to write a good practice guide on working with LGBTQ young people in foster care by Coram BAAF. I am developing training materials for local authorities based on the findings from this research. I have presented the findings at several events with practitioner audiences. We are piloting training materials in July 2018 with five social care agencies. I am making a short animated film with young researchers based on the findings, due to be completed and launched July 2018. I was interviewed as part of an article in ESRC Impact magazine about the research findings. I have presented an the APPG for Looked after children and care leavers in Feb 2019.
Sector Education,Healthcare,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care East of England
Amount £49,614 (GBP)
Organisation National Institute for Health Research 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 03/2018
 
Description INVOLVE conference with young researchers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 4 young researchers gave a presentation with the PI outlining the benefits of participatory research using the ESRC study as their case example
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited presentation at All Party Parliamentary Group for Children in Care and Care Leavers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presented research findings including the findings of first national survey into policy and practice regarding LGBT+ young people in care to the APPG for Looked after children and Care Leavers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited presentation to launch of ERASMUS funded pan-European study safeguarding young people in care 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Plenary presentation at a conference on 'Safeguarding young people in care' held at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. This was the closing conference for an EU funded research project that investigated how to support a healthy sexual development of children and young people growing up in residential and foster care, and involved Universities from four countries: the Netherlands, Belgium, Scotland and Denmark. See the website http://www.amsterdamuas.com/safe for further information. The findings of the 'Speakout' project were presented at this conference, addressing the needs of LGBTQI young people in care. One of the outputs of the EU 'Safeguarding' project were training materials for lecturers, students and professionals (all in English), and the work of the UEA project complemented these resources.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description North East practitioner training 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to training event on working with LGBTQ young people for multi-agency professionals in the North East of England.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Pilot of training materials for Norfolk, Suffolk National Fostering Agency and Break 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact c100 participants attended day long training sessions in two local authorities and two third sector organisations. Training was developed from research findings and aimed to improve support fo LGBT+ young people in care. The training included input from young researcher team via audio, film and case studies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Stakeholder group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact A stakeholder group was held to present findings from the ESRC study to key third sector organisations as well as policy makers, including representatives for DfE and Government Equalities Office.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description UCU Manchester sexual orientation, gender identity, LGBTQI lives conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation of the research aims and objectives, methodology and recruitment process to an audience of union members, third sector organisations. Presentation prompted discussion of issues facing LGBTQ children in care and other research on LGBTQ adolescents. Audience engaged and we gained some help in recruiting participants to the research project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description launch conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A day long launch event was held to publicise findings from the research. Audience was primarily practitioners from social care and LGBTQ organisations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description young researcher group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Young researchers who are care experienced and identify as LGBTQ were recruited to the study. We meet with them on a monthly basis. They have been involved at all stages of the study, from ethics to analysis and we are planning to involve them in dissemination beyond the funded project. We have secured funding to keep working with this group to develop impact from the study. The young people are involved in participation work with local authorities and are stimulating interest in the research with relevant public sector workers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016