Family and Youth Services Bureau-funded Project Paves the Way for Serving LGBTQ Homeless Youth

Photograph of a young man sitting outdoors on a college campus, while students study nearby.

A new project funded by the Family and Youth Services Bureau will help transitional living programs provide safe and affirming services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.

Launched in fall 2013, “3/40 BLUEPRINT: Creating the Blueprint to Reduce LGBTQ Youth Homelessness” is a collaboration among the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Jane Addams College of Social Work, the Center for the Study of Social Policy and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. Researchers from the three organizations will, over the course of three years,

  • review the social science literature on LGBTQ youth and homelessness;
  • assess the needs of LGBTQ youth in transitional living programs as well as programs’ need for training and support; and
  • identify and analyze screening and assessment tools, existing and emerging practices, and trainings for social service providers that serve runaway and homeless youth.

Need for Policies

“The goal is to gather everything we know about LGBTQ youth and best practices for serving them, and disseminate that information to all the transitional living programs in the country,” says Principal Investigator Alan Dettlaff, associate professor in the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“There’s a lot of information out there about LGBTQ runaway and homeless youth, both in the literature and among service providers,” Dettlaff says. “There are a lot of agencies that have been doing this for a long time and have developed a lot of resources. But many agencies are still struggling with so many of these issues, especially how best to serve transgender youth. Which bathrooms should they use, which staff should work with them, how to talk to staff and other youth about them. There’s a need for policies in a lot of agencies to create a safe space for these youth.”

Input From the Field

A technical expert group of runaway and homeless youth program staff, youth and researchers will provide advice and direction for the project. In addition, project staff will visit a handful of transitional living programs and conduct focus groups with youth and staff.

“I would like ideally to be able to go to all 200 transitional living programs across the country, but we’re not going to be able to do that,” Dettlaff says.

Hearing from youth will be key to the project’s success.

“Not only about their experience of being homeless, but also their experience in transitional living programs,” Dettlaff says. “If the goal is to build capacity, it’s youth who will tell us what needs to be built, what needs to be improved. What are things that happen within transitional living programs that don’t make them feel safe or welcome or affirmed? And what needs to happen in transitional living programs so that they do feel safe and welcome and affirmed?”

Informing Programming

The Center for the Study of Social Policy, a policy development and technical assistance organization, will facilitate the technical expert panel and connect the project to its get R.E.A.L. initiative, which aims to improve the healthy sexual and identity development for all children and youth in the child welfare system.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the research arm of the national advocacy group for LGBT people, will help create products based on the findings of the project and disseminate those products to FYSB grantees.

“We’re hoping to put things together in nice packages that summarize the main issues, the main points, so we can improve the uptake of this information” among transitional living program staff, Dettlaff says.

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