How to Support LGBTQ+ Youth — Top Tips for Social Workers

Since the late 1990s, June has been recognized internationally as Pride Month, a time to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and recognize the obstacles and discrimination they continue to face for their sexual orientation.

LGBTQ+ youth face unique challenges in their daily lives as a result of their sexual orientation, whether or not they are “out,” or openly identifying as queer. Bullying from peers, homelessness, and lack of support and resources can often leave these young people feeling hopeless, helpless, and afraid.

Social workers have a duty to protect LGBTQ+ youth, especially when they are nearly three times as likely as their heterosexual counterparts to end up in the foster care system, often due to their parents’ rejection of their lifestyle. Below, we’ll explore some common challenges faced by LGBTQ+ youth, and what social workers can do to help.

How to Support LGBTQ+ Youth — Top Tips for Social Workers

Challenges LGBTQ+ Youth Face

As children become adolescents and teens become young adults, it’s normal to experience joy and excitement — but growing pains are inevitable, too. And for members of the LGBTQ+ community, the highs and lows tend to be even more extreme than what their heterosexual peers experience. 

Even though society is trending to be more accepting overall, unfortunately, not all queer children have a solid support system. Parents and caregivers might reject their child’s identity and, in turn, deny them much needed support as they transition to adulthood. Schools and other social environments may not cultivate an inclusive, welcoming atmosphere. This lack of support can cause a ripple effect: mental health crises, experiences with violence, homelessness, substance use disorders, and more. Some of these challenges may require intervention and support from social workers.

Some of the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ youth in need of social services include:

Bullying and harassment: LGBTQ+ youth often experience bullying, harassment, and verbal abuse at school, in their communities, or even within their own families. These young people are at increased risk of being a victim of both physical and verbal violence.

Discrimination and stigma: LGBTQ+ youth, especially transgender youth, are likely to face discrimination — in fact, many communities are pushing for new regulations surrounding the handling of gender and sexuality issues in schools. Discrimination can have a huge impact on student engagement and overall academic performance.

Lack of support: Many LGBTQ+ adolescents struggle with a lack of support and acceptance from their families, friends, or communities after self-identifying as LGBTQ+. This lack of support can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Limitations on healthcare: LGBTQ+ children, especially those that identify as transgender seeking gender-affirming care, face unique challenges in receiving care from medical providers. Constantly evolving legal limitations on gender-affirming care, as well as the exorbitant cost of healthcare in the U.S., pose challenges to students without support and resources.

Mental health issues: Nearly 20% of high school students report serious thoughts of suicide and 9% have made an attempt to take their lives, according to advocacy group The Trevor Project, and these numbers are even higher among LGBTQ+ adolescents. Queer youth are also more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Homelessness: Many LGBTQ+ youth experience multiple disrupted placements, compounding the trauma associated with leaving their families of origin and increasing the chances of homelessness. Homelessness in adolescence can cause further emotional distress and form additional barriers to employment and self-sufficiency later in life.

How Social Workers Can Help

First and foremost, social workers need to create a safe space to treat each client they work with as a unique and valuable human being. Depending on their caseload, collecting and remembering relevant information about each client can be overwhelming. However, children and teens — especially those that are part of a marginalized minority — need to be heard and understood.

Each child’s circumstances will vary, so it’s important to address their unique needs on a case-by-case basis. However, all LGBTQ+ youth can benefit from the same compassionate, inclusive, and empathetic approach to their issues.

When working with LGBTQ+ youth, social workers can empower their clients with their tools and their time.

Mental health support: 

LGBTQ+ youth often face higher rates of mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Social workers can offer individual or group counseling, mental health assessments, and timely crisis intervention to address these issues and provide consistent or as-needed support.

Assistance with coming out:

Coming out can be a complex and challenging process for LGBTQ+ youth. Social workers can help clients prepare and offer guidance, resources, and emotional support throughout this journey, helping them safely navigate disclosure to family, friends, and their communities when they’re ready.

Communication with family: 

Some clients might struggle to communicate with their family out of embarrassment or fear of homophobia. Social workers can provide education and resources to family members and loved ones to help them better understand the nuances of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Advocacy and initiatives: 

LGBTQ+ youth often face bullying, harassment, and discrimination in their schools and communities. Social workers can advocate on behalf of LGBTQ+ people for policies and collaborate with schools to develop anti-bullying programs and support LGBTQ+ youth in accessing legal protections.

Connection with resources: 

Social workers can connect LGBTQ+ youth with community organizations, support groups, and resources that address their specific needs. These resources may include LGBTQ+ centers, youth groups, healthcare providers, housing, legal services, and more.

Referral networks:

Social workers can collaborate with other professionals, such as educators, healthcare providers, and counselors, to build a comprehensive support system for LGBTQ+ youth. This interdisciplinary approach can address various aspects of their well-being and create a network of support they can rely on throughout and after adolescence.

The language and culture surrounding gender identity and gender expression is constantly evolving, often with LGBTQ+ youth leading the way. It’s important to remember that the specific needs of LGBTQ+ youth may vary, and social workers should approach their work with cultural humility, respect, and a willingness to learn from the youth they serve.

CaseWorthy Helps Social Workers Make Meaningful Connections

Students don’t need to be in crisis to require care, respect, and support. The United States’ population is growing increasingly gender diverse and more supportive of gender non-conforming people and ideas as more LGBTQ+ grow into LGBTQ+ adults and leaders. Part of the reason more people are out and proud today is because of invaluable support they received in their youth.

CaseWorthy’s customizable case management software helps social workers and nonprofit staff provide more personalized care to people of all backgrounds. And no matter what, you need to be ready to accommodate individuals from all walks of life and perspectives.

  • Our flexible platform can help you sort legacy data and collect new data points every day as you learn about the individuals and communities you serve.
  • Our cloud-based platform with user authentication and secure channels can help you connect clients with the individuals and services they need from anywhere.
  • Powerful data tracking and reporting can help social workers communicate and demonstrate trends to school districts and policymakers so you can turn your clients’ experiences into action.

One powerful platform can store all your clients’ information and connect them with much-needed resources. If it sounds too good to be true, let us prove it. Contact our team of case management experts today to see what we can do for you and your clients.


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