NASW’s Louisiana Chapter has launched a training initiative to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth across the state.
The program — which is funded by the Tides Foundation — is part of a “train the trainer” initiative that NASW developed after the NASW Foundation and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund teamed up in 2008 to improve the care and treatment of LGBTQ youth in the foster care system.
The training helps social workers dissolve any prior stigma or preconceived notions surrounding LGBTQ youth, so that the population can receive the help they need without judgment or misunderstanding, NASW Foundation Director Robert Arnold said.
“Many LGBTQ youth in the foster care system are there because they’ve run away from home,” he said. “They didn’t feel like their families or communities accepted or understood them, or they were bullied. It’s important for social workers to understand the unique needs of LGBTQ youth so they can help them.”
Carmen Weisner (photo right), executive director of NASW-Louisiana, said the chapter is working with several entities in the state — including the Louisiana Court Appointed Special Advocates, the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, and the Court Improvement Project within the state Supreme Court — to get the training initiative out to as many people as they can across varied demographics. The training targets social workers and others who currently work or may work with LGBTQ youth in the custody of the state, or at risk of placement in the foster care system.
“This population of youth in out-of-home care are particularly vulnerable to physical or emotional abuse, depression, rape, unethical ‘conversion therapies,’ prostitution, substance abuse and suicide,” Weisner said. “Because of these reasons, NASW and Lambda Legal feel it is imperative to train professionals to be responsive to the needs of LGBTQ youth.”
The chapter effort to spread the initiative has helped train about 800 people so far in Louisiana, Weisner said, and the number is rising as the training continues to be part of the collaborative’s focus.
“Anytime anything touches on LGBT policy, we find that there is a lot of misinformation about the issue,” she said. “In Louisiana, social work is the largest behavioral health profession in the state. LGBT youth are really at risk; it’s important to be culturally competent in these areas.”
LGBTQ youth can face rejection by family and a lack of understanding from professionals working with them, said Jacqueline Wilson, program operations director for Louisiana Children, Children Advocacy Center of Louisiana, and the Louisiana Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children.
“This training helps professionals working with these youth have a humanistic approach,” Wilson said. “We at CASA are in partnership with NASW-Louisiana to spread the training within our organizations and to reach other organizations in the state.”
The Jefferson Parish Court in Louisiana used the Lambda training prior to the chapter initiative, said Mark Harris, project coordinator for the Court Improvement Program at the state Supreme Court. NASW-Louisiana has been a collaborative partner to the court system, he said, and has helped to further the training and provide assistance.
“This project/training is important because LGBTQ youth presented in the child welfare system have special needs,” Harris said. “Many are in the system because of their LGBT status, and they are more likely to experience maltreatment after getting into the system. We want to try to make sure they’re understood and that providers are tolerant and understanding.”
The overarching goal is for LGBTQ youth in the foster care system to be safe and feel safe, he said.
“That concept drives all of our work. Feeling safe is a well-being issue,” Harris said. “Having NASW as a partner for this project and saying that NASW-Louisiana does this lends a tremendous amount of credibility to the training.”
He said a reward of the program is seeing people come out of the training and have an ‘aha’ moment that changes their perceptions.
“They go into it sometimes with a closed mind and an opinion that’s not necessarily favorable, and they come out of training with a deeper understanding of the issues LGBT youth face, more sensitivity towards them and a more open mind,” Harris said. “It’s tremendously satisfying to see that.”
Weisner said the training is particularly useful to social workers.
“This has been really helpful in helping social workers to understand they have to have competency to identify with any LGBT youth population,” she said. “We will continue to educate people.”
Get more information in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Practice section.