A guest post from Marli Senecal, a Foster Support Worker with our affiliated organisation Key Assets Ontario in Canada. Marli is aware of the rewards and challenges of fostering. Along with her colleagues, she provides regular training for foster carers on a variety of topics, including caring for children and young people who identify as 2SLGBTQ+. She shares some of her insights below.
2SLGBTQ+ is an acronym that stands for Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning and additional sexual orientations and gender identities. “Two-Spirit” is a term used within certain Indigenous communities, including in Canada, to encompass aspects of cultural, spiritual, sexual, and gender identity. It reflects the intricate understanding of gender roles, spirituality, and the rich history of sexual and gender diversity present in Indigenous cultures.
Foster carers open their hearts and homes to young people, and in doing so, they embark on a journey of learning and understanding. The fostering experience can bring up a range of unfamiliar topics, such as emotional, cultural, and religious differences. To support foster carers in navigating these challenges, many fostering agencies provide training opportunities on various topics.
In many pieces of training regarding diversity and inclusion, the 2SLGBTQ+ community is mentioned but not necessarily focused on directly. This can be positive and negative, as it is essential to recognise that young people have multiple interests and needs that extend beyond their sexual and gender identity. We cannot support a 2SLGBTQ+ young person without supporting cultural, religious, emotional, and developmental needs. Unfortunately, that means that sometimes Foster Carers may not get the opportunity to ask further questions in training that may be more directed to 2SLGBTQ+.
Many resources are available online and within their local communities for foster carers who want to deepen their understanding of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. Websites such as MindOut UK, LGBTQ+ Youth in Care, The Trevor Project, and The Be You Project offer a wealth of information, including reading materials, F.A.Qs, and training opportunities.
Advocacy and Validation
In addition to ongoing education, I also emphasise the importance of advocacy, validation, and creating a safe space for young people. Depression and anxiety rates are higher than average amongst 2SLGBTQ+ people, often stemming from the inability to be open about who they are without repercussions like bullying or invalidation from their loved ones and friends. In some cases, they are ostracised from their community and family due to cultural and religious beliefs.
When we advocate for 2SLGBTQ+ young people, it is not limited to the Foster Care Agency and Social Workers but extends to advocating for:
- respect within their school placements,
- correcting usage of their preferred pronouns and names,
- ensuring medical professionals do not invalidate their thoughts and feelings around their identity,
- access to health information and crisis contacts,
- opportunities to meet with others from their community and mentorship programs.
Validation is critical as it shows the young person that they are heard and respected and helps them feel confident in their identity. Advocacy and validation are skills and actions that often go hand in hand and can be developed over time with practice.
Creating Safe Spaces
Lastly, I want to highlight the importance of creating a safe space in the home where young people feel accepted and valued and can be themselves without fear of judgement. Many of them will come from homes where their identity was not accepted. Feeling displaced or lacking belonging might have become the norm for the young person, and this will impact their relationships and attachments in the future. Foster carers can help lay the foundation for resilience and healthy relationships in young people’s lives by creating safe and nurturing spaces where they know there will always be a place somewhere they can feel invited, cared for and at home.
Key Assets Ontario, part of the Martin James Foundation, is a non-profit organisation providing a range of services, including foster care, child and youth support services, training and consultancy services.