We know that children and young people in foster care are highly vulnerable and need their foster carers to support and advocate for them. We also know that trans young people are vulnerable to discrimination and oppression. So how should carers prepare for fostering trans young people?
What should foster carers know about what it’s like to be a trans young person?
One could say that generally our society does not treat young people well. Teenagers are often viewed with suspicion and criticism and a degree of contempt. For young people in foster care, these attitudes are largely exacerbated. When it comes to fostering trans young people, the challenges can be even more pronounced.
- 81% of trans young people will avoid certain social situations out of fear, for example over 50% have said they avoid public toilets (Trans mental health review 2012)
- 62% of trans young people have experienced harassment by the public in a public space (James Morton, Scottish Transgender Alliance, 2008)
- 30% reported that a health care professional refused to discuss a trans-related concern with them (Trans Mental Health Review, 2012)
- 84% have considered suicide at some point (Trans Mental Health Review, 2009)
Should trans young people be treated any differently when it comes to fostering?
Of course the answer is a resounding no! All children in foster care should expect their carers to support, encourage, respect and advocate for them. Trans children and young people are no different. But it would be naïve to assume that a one-size-fits-all approach will cover all eventualities. Trans young people may be dealing with additional problems related to their identity and it is this that foster carers need to be mindful of and prepared for. In short, foster carers need to educate themselves.
What do trans young people need from me as their foster carer?
Most young people desire to be accepted and understood. Some trans young people will feel this need more keenly amidst rejection and ridicule by peers or society at large. As a trans young person in foster care therefore, you may be looking even more closely at your carer’s actions and reactions.
Trans young people may be dealing with additional problems related to their identity and it is this that foster carers need to be mindful of and prepared for
- Be empathetic.
Foster carers need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of others. How important is your identity to you? How would you feel if your identity was questioned or denied? Do all that you can to understand the young person’s perspective. Read blogs, articles, research and TALK to your young person.
- Create a safe space.
In order to understand a young person’s point of view, you need to create trust and opportunity to share conversation. Always be led by the young person and go at their pace but the aim should be to normalise discussion. This allows a young person to feel heard and accepted.
- Be accepting.
We all want to be accepted for who we are and foster carers have a duty to accept children and young people and meet them where they are at. Trans young people might have experienced rejection, abuse and alienation as a direct result of their identity. They have a right to be respected and accepted in the home environment.
All children in foster care should expect their carers to support, encourage, respect and advocate for them
- Find out what is important to the young person.
What pronoun do they want you to use for them? What name? How open do they want to be with others? Do they want to access support services? Do they want to explore their identity further and do they need help to do so? Don’t assume. Ask.
- Support the young person to educate themselves.
There are many good sources of age appropriate information which can help trans young people to understand their feelings. Seek these out and offer to share them with your young person.
- Advocate for your young person.
Once you know their experiences, expectations and desires make sure other professionals understand and abide by them.
- Challenge other professionals!
Correct stereotypes. Be sensitive to mis-gendering. Try to engage those who don’t listen.
Fostering a trans young person? Start right here.
LGBT Youth in Care have produced an excellent guide and toolkit. In addition to this they have a great list of further resources. Well worth a look!
Many thanks to Eastern Fostering Services for permission to re-publish this article