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Transitioning youth in residential care

2016

Hello,

My name is Kendra Siklodi and I am in my second year of Child and Youth Care Counselling at Mount Royal University. I am currently doing a practicum at an all male group home (ages 15-17).

We currently have a youth in the process of transitioning (from male to female). I was wondering what everyone thinks about a transitioning youth in a specified gender group home? Also I was wondering if anyone knows if this is a common scenario and if there is policy and/or reasoning behind putting a transition youth into you gender specific group home?

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing your responses!

Kendra

...

 Hi Kendra,

I suspect that with all the gender stuff on the internet and young people being more readily able to find information to help them understand and describe their identities, this is a situation that's going to come up more and more often. As well, I find that the main reason it ends up being a problem at all is the super gendered nature of child and youth services, but that's a discussion for another time possibly.

I work in a young men's emergency shelter and I've found that the way we have dealt with this situation is also really aligned with my personal values and beliefs. I think one of the big things to keep in mind is to have a really good understanding of the systemic experience of trans people when using residential services. Residences are often for only men or only women, though there are a few mixed gender ones out there. Shelters also tend to be highly gendered – even co-ed shelters tend to have assigned male and female beds in different areas. It's really important to understand that so often, trans people have to choose between accessing services somewhere that is aligned with their gender but unsafe for them and accessing services somewhere that is slightly safer but not aligned with their gender. Essentially, trans people have to choose between a bunch of inappropriate and often unsafe services without any appropriate alternative.

Our approach has been to 100% take the young person's lead about where they would like to be. For example, we had a young person at the shelter who at the time identified as male, but as she learned more about trans issues while at the shelter, realized that she identified as female and wanted to transition. So then we had this trans woman in a male shelter. And we just put it up to her: if at this point in her transition, she was feeling safer in a male space, then she was 100% welcome to stay in that space. And she has been given the lead in terms of her being welcome to stay until she feels that a female space would be safer for her. The youth who find themselves in residential programs are already pretty vulnerable, so I'm all for anything that's going to increase safety for them and it's really the young person’s call about where they feel safe as a trans person in a highly gendered system.

The big thing to remember though, is that if this transitioning young person is going to be staying in your program, you and the staff team need to work really hard to build capacity to serve that young person if it's not already there. That's means being informed about trans issues, services, and resources in the community as well as ensuring you have the ability to intervene with any transphobia you see happening in the space. If the whole point of the young person staying in the program is that a male space feels safer for them now, then that space has to be safe for them.

Good luck, and awesome question!

Leah
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