Recognize. Engage. Affirm. Love
All youth in child welfare settings continue to face challenges to their well-being. LGBTQ and Gender Non-Conforming (GNC) youth often have poorer outcomes and face greater risks because of the impact of bias and rejection by individuals and institutions. These young people are often in the child welfare system because of severe trauma and rejection by family, peers and community institutions solely because of how they identify or how others perceive them. It is often this stigma—and related physical and emotional abuse—that lead to youth running away and experiencing homelessness.
Today’s youth are fluid in how they describe and express their sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. They may explore various options as part of their development. The child welfare system needs a way to guide those who work with these youth to make sensitive inquiries about and respond appropriately to, youth’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. Although there are isolated local examples of good practice, much more is needed. Compounding all of this is the lack of reliable data at both the national and local levels about the prevalence of LGBTQ youth in child welfare systems.
CSSP’s get R.E.A.L (Recognize. Engage. Affirm. Love) initiative is designed to address these issues: to help transform child welfare policy and practice to promote the healthy development of all children and youth. Sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (along with race, ethnicity, and disability) are part of the identity formation that occurs in adolescence.
The get R.E.A.L name was crafted as a challenge to public systems working with children, but it also provides lessons, implications and a process for parents, caregivers and all system-involved youth. The acronym is directed at all these stakeholders as a means of meeting the initiative’s primary goal.