A report says changes need to be made to help LGBTQ youth who are struggling in Alberta’s child-welfare and justice systems.
The province’s child and youth advocate, Del Graff, says LGBTQ youth need not only more support, but more say and options in how they are treated.
“No young person should ever feel bad about who they are,” Graff said Monday as he released his report.
“Their uniqueness and diversity is something that is to be celebrated, supported and encouraged. Sexual and gender diverse young people in our child and youth justice welfare systems need to feel safe and accepted for who they are.”
Graff noted that supports for LGBTQ young people are growing, but they remain at a higher risk of homelessness, mental illness and suicide.
His report was based on interviews with young people, focus groups and other stakeholders.
Graff found that the province has a patchwork of supports and standards.
“We have heard from young people that their experiences in receiving services throughout Alberta are inconsistent,” he wrote in his report.
“Even when they experience support and acceptance in one place, their experience can be completely different in a new location or with different employees.”
Scroll down to read the OCYA report.
More staff training with consistent standards is needed, the report suggests. It adds that some youth “told us that they were bullied, harassed, and experienced violence from staff and peers in places they were living.”
Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee said work is underway to help staff better understand the needs of LGBTQ youth.
“We agree that we must always look for ways to better support (LGBTQ) youth,” said Larivee in a statement.
“That’s why our government introduced and passed Bill 24, to protect students in gay-straight and queer-straight alliances, and why we created new youth and housing shelter guidelines that recognize the unique challenges that (LGBTQ) youth at risk of homelessness face.”
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Premier Rachel Notley’s government passed legislation last week to strengthen rules around gay-straight alliances in schools. The alliances are peer support networks designed to help LGBTQ youth feel welcome and to avoid getting bullied or harassed.
The law also bars teachers or other school officials from telling parents when their children are in an alliance. It says such a sensitive, emotionally fraught decision must be left up to the student.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association supported Bill 24 but the Opposition United Conservatives voted against it. They said, in some situations, a teacher needs to be able to tell parents.
Graf’s report said young people in government care have concerns about their sexual identity being shared by officials without their permission.
“Safety is an ongoing concern and they are cautious about whom they come out to, when they come out, and whom they share this information with,” he wrote.