Learn How You Can Help Families Support Their LGBTQ Children

A family stands together holding hands.

We’ve written before about the groundbreaking research from San Francisco State University’s Family Acceptance Project, and interviewed the project’s director, Caitlin Ryan about the difference supportive families can make for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.

Now a new publication from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, "A Practitioner's Resource Guide: Helping Families to Support Their LGBT Children," aims to help health and social service professionals put the project’s “family intervention” approach into practice.

Research by Ryan and others has shown that youth who are rejected by their families because of sexual orientation have higher risks of suicide and depression and are more likely than their peers to use illegal drugs and have unprotected sex. Researchers have also learned that different levels of rejection have varying effects on young people’s well-being. That means helping families become even a little more accepting can make a difference for LGBTQ teens.

Family Intervention Framework

With that in mind, the family intervention framework views families and caregivers as potential allies in reducing risk, promoting well-being, and creating a healthy future for LGBTQ youth. The approach also sees a family’s cultural values – including deeply-held beliefs –as strengths.

“Many parents and families whose children end up out of home (e.g., homeless or in custodial care) want to reconnect and to have an ongoing relationship with their LGBT children despite assumptions by others that they do not want to have any involvement with their LGBT children’s lives,” the authors of the SAMHSA guide write.

Key Steps for Service Providers

Based on Family Acceptance Project research, the SAMHSA guide suggests key steps service providers can take when they work with families, including:

  1. Meet caregivers “where they are.”
  2. Give families respectful language to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity.
  3. Let parents and caregivers talk about their experiences and their hopes and fears for their LGBTQ children.
  4. Educate families on how family rejecting behaviors affect their LGBTQ children.
  5. Educate families on how supportive and accepting behaviors affect their LGBTQ children.

Using the advice in the guide, service professionals can help parents and caregivers separate their personal reactions to having an LGBTQ child from their child’s need for love, safety and support.

Read “A Practitioner's Resource Guide: Helping Families to Support Their LGBT Children" (PDF 1MB).

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children & Families.

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