‘Inclusivity should underpin the ethos of any fostering service’
To mark LGBT+ History Month Charlotte Andrew, engagement manager at Three Circles Fostering, shares her thoughts on LGBT+ foster carers and young people in care. She tells us what services can do to reach out to prospective LGBT+ carers, how they can support them in their role and what more needs to be done for care experienced LGBT+ children.
Charlotte co-founded lgbtyouthincare.com and is a trustee on the board of directors for Proud 2 b Parents. An adopter and previously a foster carer, she works nationwide with community groups to support, raise awareness and advise on best practice supporting LGBT+ foster carers, adopters and youth in care.
Currently, we do not know how many LGBT+ foster carers there are in England as there is no national dataset collated or published. Comparatively, last year 1 in 6 adoptions were to LGBTQ+ people. This trend has increased year on year since statistics began. These figures are important because they show that LGBT+ people are keen to be carers but our lack of knowledge of how many LGBT+ foster carers there are leaves agencies hampered as to how best to inspire and support this group to look after young people in the care system. The more diverse groups of foster carers there are, the better served our diverse young people are, so supporting LGBT+ foster carers should be a priority for fostering services.
Reaching out to the LGBT+ community
Inclusivity should underpin the ethos of any fostering service given the range of individuals involved. This means actively targeting LGBT+ people and dispelling unhelpful myths such as the misconception that LGBT+ people cannot foster. This can take many forms: targeted ads on social media, using diverse images on promotional material, incorporating the trans flag (trans people are more likely to be overlooked) and ensuring that assessing social workers and panel members have had LGBT+ inclusion training, as well as unconscious bias training.
Making a conscious choice to be inclusive requires work on the behalf of the fostering service, but this work is valuable and certainly worthwhile. First impressions are everything, and as well as utilising diverse promotional materials, it is important that social workers are well trained to support LGBT+ people as they will be showcasing the ethos of the service. New research from Claire Brown (Teeside University) states that although there are areas of good practice, the level of support can be drastically different for those who are trans. Brown states, ‘there are multiple barriers that impact trans and non-binary people interested in fostering ’ and new recommendations from Claire suggest that high quality gender diversity training should be a starting point in addressing this.
Awareness, support and a safe space for cares and young people
It is vital that LGBT+ carers are consulted on matters which might directly affect them. There needs to be an understanding that these carers are more likely to face discrimination and encounter hate crimes. In order to further support existing LGBT+ carers, fostering services should nurture a community within their service in which they can come together to share experiences and to be with others who understand their experiences. Covid-19 is having an impact on social gatherings at the moment, but events can be arranged virtually and lockdowns or social distancing should not be used as an excuse to delay these vital community events.
While fostering services are considering the experiences of their carers, they also need to consider the experiences of their LGBT+ young people and the support that is made available to them. There is always more that can be done to ensure that LGBT+ young people feel safe and validated in foster care environments. Carers should be encouraged to make the home a more inclusive space by i.e., displaying LGBT+ symbols (pride/ trans flag), make information easily available to young people in the home (leaflets/ access to local LGBT+ groups) and openly celebrate LGBT+ culture (attending pride events/ promoting positive role models).
Room for improvement
All children have the right to a safe living environment. LGBTQ+ children in foster care need exactly this with the added layer of acceptance from their carers and reassurance that they can be exactly who they are. Unfortunately, there are many children who have endured multiple placement breakdowns because they have not been accepted by their carers.
It seems essential then that steps need to be taken during the assessment process and annual reviews to ensure that placements don’t break down in relation to a child’s LGBT+ identity. Potential and existing carers should be asked the questions of whether they could care for a child who is bisexual or gay and whether they could care for a child who is trans. These vital questions could help to identify those who would most benefit from additional support as they embark on their journey to becoming carers.
Support, no matter what
Foster carers who are caring for LGBT+ children need to be prepared to advocate for the young people in their care. They may face microaggressions, homophobic, transphobic or biphobic bullying, there may be intersectional elements to their identity which will need attention and support and they will need to be helped to navigate a heteronormative and cisnormative world.
Positive relationships are the foundation of building an accepting and safe environment for LGBT+ young people to thrive and to truly be themselves, and it is essential that all carers, whether or not they themselves are LGBT+, are empowered to create these environments for those in their care.
To read more on how you can create such an environment for the children you look after, read our blog ‘The foster home as a safe space for LGBT+ children in care’.