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LGBTQ, special needs and family values

2015

Hi,

I have a question:

This is something I’ve been struggling with. As a queer person, I am accepting and always open to discuss similar topics with clients who are questioning or on the LGBTQ2S+ spectrum.

How would I begin to come to terms working with a young adult whose parents/family are not supportive of queer individuals? I work from a person centered perspective yet I have had family members threaten to cut program funding because they demand their ‘daughter’ be called by their name of birth rather than how they identify as now, as trans male. I should also mention that the individuals I support are on the Autism spectrum as well so some of these family members are still the legal guardians of the young adults I work with.

Do I secretly support my client from a person centered approach? Or do I adhere to the wishes of the family?
I look forward to your replies. Thanks!

KS
...

Dear KS,

In Minnesota it is unethical to discriminate against a person who identifies as trans, or lgbt in general. What is the age of consent where you work? Here I believe it is 13. When a person is 13 in Minnesota they can seek some care services without their parents consent.

In my experience I will point kids to resources and validate their identity regardless of if their parents do. It’s self determination. I’ve worked with kids who find themselves in families whose religious convictions are in conflict with their identity or worldview. Here we have to help the person grow into themselves and differentiate from their parents while attempting to maintain that relationship. This can pose many challenges, but ultimately our work is for the people clients in our care and freedom starts with self determination.

Peter D.
...

Hi,

What a great question! I am not sure I have an answer but I am so supportive of you initiating this discussion because it is definitely an issue that I come across often in my practice. There is so much support for the LGBTQ population in a lot of ways (I am based out of the Vancouver area) but given that, there are still so many barriers and stigmas that need to be broken through. The work of a Child and Youth Care practitioner is to enter a youth’s life space in a genuine and authentic manner and be there with them through their experiences. The other part of this is to also be mindful of ‘self’ and practice active self-awareness in each moment to determine and constantly monitor what values and beliefs are yours versus those of your client’s.

As difficult as it can often be, it is not within our role to solve the problems so to speak for our clients, rather to be there for them in supporting them to find the solutions that fit for them and their families. Stay curious and non-judgmental with the families about what their fears and resistance are about; hopefully this can lead to discussions with them but sometimes not. However, in your relationship with the youth I think it is totally appropriate for you to accept them for you they are and whatever gender, sexual orientation that they identify with. I don’t know that that is being ‘secretive’, it is supporting your client and respecting them in their life space. Also, providing them with access to the supports and resources that are available to them; especially if their funding is cut and they are withdrawn from your program and services. There is not much more you can do for any client with any issue other than being your authentic self and continuing to be an advocate. Also being a healthy role model – sometimes we don’t get the benefit of seeing the change we effect on others in this field of work but if you are true to the values and principles of CYC, you will undoubtedly make a lasting impact that will hopefully lead to confidence and change for the client in their future. The fact that there was at least one person who accepted them for who they are, may not feel like a lot to you in the moment but may be the one thing that helps them feel ok about themselves.

Part of the advocacy and education piece that you can provide to youth is to reference the Infants Act – youth have their own rights to confidentiality etc by the age of 12 in Canada so make sure you are familiar with this legislation as there are things that you are able to keep confidential between you and your client.

Keep in mind, that my experience and knowledge in dealing with these issues does not involve the added dynamic that you have with regard to your clients being identified on the Autism Spectrum. I do not have a lot of experience with working with children and youth who have autism so I cannot speak to what their capabilities are in functioning levels and being able to advocate for themselves.

I hope that this helpful and supportive. I also hope that others respond and can add some insight on this topic and promote further discussion.

All the best!
Sue Hunt

Hi KS,

I feel for you as the situation you are encountering is certainly a difficult one. As a self identified queer individual you are aware of the negative impacts of having to hide one’s sexual identity. How could you/the program effectively create a therapeutic rapport with this individual without acceptance? Advocating on behalf of this individual despite the threat of funding being cut would be my goal. What is the programs mission statement? The parents obviously needed support and your program was chosen for a reason maybe the focus on their child's identity needs to be re-directed to the original purpose of the individuals needs.

Good luck,

Charlene Pickrem

I am currently completing my second year of my B.A in CYC at UFV. In my opinion as hard as it is I think you need to try and stay unopinionated even if it is something you feel strongly about. I believe the best thing you can do is try to inform the family with facts rather than your own experience at least until they are able to come to terms with it. This can be difficult because as CYC workers we want to do what’s right by the child and protect them but how do we do that if their family doesn't understand? I think we try to support the young person the best we can, and give them the tools they need to help deal with and educate their family. If we get to the point where the family just doesn't care and its their way or no way then I think it is okay to take action because you still need to put the rights of the child forward, and obviously if they are not being allowed to be who they truly are they're needs are not being met. I feel this issue is an upcoming and slippery slope because of all the personal turmoil and negativity that comes with LGBTQ. This is just from what I know and have experienced with friends and school.

Brittany Alysia

I am a student from UFV completing my second year in the CYC degree program. It is a delicate matter to address when dealing with a family who cannot come to terms with something they perceive to be outside their comfort zone. As a CYC worker, I believe that our first priority is definitely to our clients but, we must do so in respect to their family as well. Providing the family with all the information possible and advocating for family counselling may help them find a way to address their feelings in a positive way. Your clients are lucky to have a strong advocate for themselves and in the long run your advocacy may be what makes the difference in their life. I agree with Brittany in her comment that if the youth you are working with are feeling as though they must repress their identity then their needs are not being met. Perhaps the parents need to be aware of the services available to them to help with the transition of perceptions they are facing. Hopefully this helps.

Selina Smith
...

Hi KS,

Things will always come up in Child and Youth Care that will challenge our own values and beliefs. We always need to look at these things through a professional lense, rather than a personal one, which can be difficult! You need to talk to your supervisor about the best course of action and go from there. Remember that parents are acting on what they believe is best for their child (generally speaking) even though you may think that is not so! It is never a good idea to “secretly” support as that completely compromises you professionally, is unethical and could result in you losing your job. Again, what you think is the best is obviously different from what the parent thinks is but you are not a guardian of that child. Having a person or client centered approach means being this way for all the clients, which would include the young person’s family. You need to look at the needs and experiences of the family as a whole. I run into this all the time, it is frustrating as a professional when you think the “best” can’t be done but I would be extremely upset if a professional I trusted went against my wishes in regards to MY child (I am not a parent but I can empathize!). As well, going against the family could cause this family to turn their back on any help for their child, which could also be a detriment. You need to be open and honest with your supervisor and then you both can decide how to handle this professionally, working with the parent while giving the youth what they need. You can still be person centered and honor the family’s wishes (and maybe slowly and gently educate), that is what we do in CYC!

Lorinda Molner
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