Culturally responsive care for LGBTQ+ youth

The King County Superior Court blog recently highlighted the eQuality Project. Run by the Center for Children & Youth Justice, eQuality has been helping King County Juvenile Court Services better connect court-involved LGBTQ+ youth with trauma-informed, culturally responsive support services. These efforts support our primary objective in the Road Map: to lead with equity. We’re centering our work on racial equity, and recognize the intersectionality of the many identities – including LGBTQ+ – that are overrepresented among youth with legal involvement. Providing culturally responsive care is also an important way we can work to achieve our Road Map objective 4: supporting youth and families to reduce recurrence of legal system involvement and improve health outcomes.

Read on to learn more about the great work of the eQuality Project in King County.

FACTS: LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionally represented in the legal system, more likely to engage in self-harm, and less likely to connect to useful and effective LGBTQ+ programs in their community.

MORE FACTS: LGBTQ+ youth may not know about services; professionals in their life may not know how to communicate with them in safe, affirming ways; professionals may not be aware of LGBTQ+ focused resources or not know how to ask organizations about services specifically for LGBTQ youth.

CHALLENGE: Connect youth with LGBTQ+ friendly and knowledgeable services in their area. Teaching professionals to help make that happen.

43% LGBTQ+ youth report experiencing homeless at some point compared to 27% of their non-LGBTQ+ peers.

Since 2017, the Center for Children & Youth Justice and King County Juvenile Court Services have participated in the eQuality Project. The project aims to get court-involved LGBTQ+ youth get the support they need.

The 16-month pilot project, launched in both King and Spokane counties, supported by the Raikes Foundation, the Pride FoundationSeattle Goodwill, QLaw and many private individuals, set out to identify then bridge gaps.

Given that no data had ever been collected on LGBTQ+ youth in juvenile legal systems in King and Spokane counties, that was the first hurdle. How do we know who needs services? Ask. How do we ask? That is a lot tougher. How do we talk to service providers about their options? All good questions. And this was the foundation for moving forward.

  • Step One: Gather data
    • Develop a questionnaire/protocol for asking all court-involved youth about their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression
  • Step Two: Speak their language
    • Train staff to discuss identity in a safe and affirming way
  • Step Three: Provide support
    • Connect youth to services designed to support LGBTQ+ youth

Step One: The Questionnaire

Every youth entering the justice system is offered a short eight-question survey. It includes age, ethnicity and several questions including: I consider myself to be (sexual orientation), I see myself as (gender — including trans and questioning). Others see me as (more masculine, more feminine, don’t know, other). These questions provide as close to a 360-degree view of the youth as possible.

Outcome: 296 youth participated. 10% reported as LGBTQ+ and 30% of those reported they did not know their gender expression (boy/girl/trans/non-conforming/queer/not-listed/don’t know/prefer not to answer).

Step Two: Train staff

Develop briefings and trainings for staff to offer this questionnaire and specific tools to engage in safe and affirming conversation. The report shows staff report being least prepared to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity compared to other issues like abuse, neglect or homelessness.

Data point: I am comfortable asking all youth about their sexual orientation and gender identity. Before training 55% to after training 65%

Staff comment: “Loved it. Thank you for all the practice of pronouns and vocabulary words. It’s important to not just know that I should ask but how does it feel to ask? Loved the coming out activity. I have a whole new perspective on what some may be feeling.”

Data point: 90% of trainees reported they were likely to use what they learned

Step Three: Provide support

Learn about the variety and location of services throughout the county designed to support LGBTQ+ youth. Connect youth to these services in a way in which they successfully use the services. Become more knowledgeable about laws and policies that protect LGBTQ+ youth (e.g., restroom laws by region or school district).

Data points:

  • I am confident in my ability to provide appropriate services: pre-training 47% / post-training 67%
  • I understand the laws and policies that protect LGBTQ+ youth: pre-training 27% / post-training 60%
  • 83% say they will assess a community organization for their acceptance of LBTBQ+ youth before referring a youth.
  • 70% say they are likely or highly likely to ask youth about their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

Staff comment: “I used to think there were few resources available for working with LGBTQ+ youth which respected their individuality and personhood. Now I think there are a growing number of agencies/programs which service LGBTQ+ youth.”

Next steps

King County Juvenile Court expands training, works toward a policy that integrates this training for all new Juvenile Court employees and, eventually, identifies a designated leader to ensure trainings and work continues.

“From a leadership perspective, we now talk about diversity differently. It’s not just black and brown diversity. We have had some challenging conversations that make some people uncomfortable.”

We sincerely thank the Center for Children and Youth Justice and all the financial support that made this pilot project possible. At the new Children and Family Justice Center, staff will be fully trained to connect our youth with the services that best support them.