Calgary Metro — November 20, 2017
Changes need to be made to help LGBTQ2S+ youth who are struggling in Alberta’s child-welfare and justice systems, according to a new report by the province’s child and youth advocate.
The report found that the province has a patchwork of supports and standards when it comes to identity, safety, living arrangements, services and supports for LGBTQ children and youth.
“We have heard from young people that their experiences in receiving services throughout Alberta are inconsistent,’’ Del Graff said Monday. “Even when they experience support and acceptance in one place, their experience can be completely different in a new location or with different employees.’’
He said these youth need not only more support, but more say and options in how they are treated while in provincial care.
It said that some youth “told us that they were bullied, harassed, and experienced violence from staff and peers in places they were living.’’
The Aura housing program for LGBTQ2S+ youth, offered through the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, was mentioned in the report as an example of safe and inclusive care.
“We always want to make sure their gender identity is respected and celebrated,” said Kristin Johnston, the senior coordinator with Housing First at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary.
“We knew that nationally, 25 to 40 per cent of youth experiencing homeless identify as LGBTQ2S+, so we knew it was incredibly important to make sure we created a service that would work with that vulnerable population.”
Aura has space for 10 youth age 16 to 24 and have helped 15 individuals since the program began in 2015, according to Johnston, who said while the program’s care givers and roomates are thoroughly vetted, they often identify as members of the LGBTQ2S+ community themselves.
“We do recruitment, interviews and home visits to make sure the places are safe – but it’s really about ensuring there’s understanding. We make sure those people also have support all the time as well,” Johnston said.
Another recommendation is that the Ministry of Children’s Services and the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General ensure the youth in care receive appropriate and inclusive sexual health information.
“When children are in care, it’s expected that the adults providing care will also play a role in educating children. However, Children’s Services has no policies or guidelines about educating children on sexual health,” Graff wrote.
Pam Krause, CEO of the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, said LGBTQ youth, whether it’s a shelter, a community service or foster home, should feel just as safe and cared for as other youth in care.
“Certainly in our work, we’re very aware of the fact that these marginalized youth don’t have access to sexual health education,” Krause told Metro. “For us to see some policy around this – where there’s more inclusion of basic information and basic rights that youth in the community have – we just think it’s really important that that step is made,”
She said a large portion of the youth in care are from sexual and gender minorities.
“I think what we see within this (report) is a recognition that not all the people that work with youth in these populations are as comfortable – so there’s a need to really level that playing field,” Krause said.
The report was based on interviews with more than 200 young people, focus groups and other stakeholders.