Gender Diversity Training: Essential for Assisting Transgender Youth

A happy family.

There are many things Tristan Torres, 18, says he needed throughout the nine months he spent in foster care.

He needed information about his rights in the child welfare system. He needed adults who were open to his choices and didn’t discriminate. Above all, he needed informed case workers and foster parents who could help him navigate services and circumstances as a transgender male.

“A lot of foster parents have a general understanding of gender diversity from mass media, like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, but it would be better if there were a foster parent training to hone in on what gender identity means and why it's important, rather than the assumption that gender identity and sexual orientation shouldn't matter in a foster parent selection process,” Torres said. “Ultimately, a lack of information leads to more harm for diverse foster youth.”

The Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) All Children–All Families project aims to provide the type of training Tristan wishes his case worker and foster parents had.

The All Children-All Families training targets agencies and organizations that work to achieve safety and permanency with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Child welfare staff across the country have participated in the training, which includes a webinar that provides an introduction to LGBTQ competency followed by in-person training that HRC tailors to individual agencies. The training breaks down the differences between sex and gender identity, and the unique needs and experiences of transgender youth, said Alison Delpercio, MSW, deputy director of the HRC’s Children, Youth and Families Program.

“We know that a lot of young people in care have been rejected by their family around their sexual identity,” Delpercio said. “Putting people in those strict boxes of gender doesn’t allow for their experience and doesn’t allow for their needs to be met.”

A recent study of participants in FYSB’s Street Outreach Programs found that more than half of youth participants had spent some time in foster care, and 6.8 percent identified as transgender. Family conflict and lack of acceptance are the most cited reasons LGBT youth leave, or are asked to leave, home. Awareness and acceptance of issues transgender youth face can prevent these youth from leaving their family of origin or foster families and prevent them from experiencing homelessness.

“Moving from rejecting behaviors to accepting behaviors can have great impact on outcomes,” Delpercio said.

The experience and openness of participants in the training so far have been mixed. While the agencies recognize their learning curve and needs for improvement, some individuals in the training were unfamiliar with the issues covered and resistant to them. “We spend a lot of time in establishing the relevancy, why it matters and that it’s not new work,” Delpercio said. “It’s work that’s connected to the goals of their agencies.”

Other programs focusing on LGBTQ youth in foster care include the Recognize Intervene Support Empower Initiative of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and FosterClub’s youth-driven solutions.

Torres spends time using his experiences to educate other adults in Nevada. He’s known for his work and leadership, advocating for resources for LGBTQ youth, and offering input into the state’s child welfare system. Active in FosterClub’s Young Leaders Programs, he learned and taught a foster care support group about gender and sexual orientation.

“Having a conversation about gender diversity may be uncomfortable if it's something [someone has] never had to deal with before, and that's ok,” Tristan said. “They can eventually learn and grow to be more inclusive of people from all different walks of life if they choose to, instead of holding onto values that promote hatred and exclusion of others.”

More on transgender youth:

NCFY Reports: Serving Transgender Youth

From FosterClub: Tristan’s Story

Foster family acceptance: Understanding the role of foster family acceptance in the lives of LGBTQ youth

Online Course: Working With LGBTQ Youth

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