By Christian Rummell, National Mentoring Resource Center
With the recent release of The LGBTQ Supplement to the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring, mentoring professionals across the country are finally able to access a growing number of research- and practitioner- informed recommendations that can improve the safety and quality of services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.
Why is the LGBTQ Youth Supplement Important?
LGBTQ youth—estimated to be seven percent of the U.S. population (ages 8-18)— are present in almost every mentoring program in the country. Although many LGBTQ youth are out and will openly disclose information about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity with program staff and mentors they trust, many more—especially those that are in elementary or middle school and in earlier phases of identity development—may still be questioning, feeling unsure about their place in the world, and are looking for clues as to whether they will be safe and will be accepted when interacting with service providers.
Regardless of whether or not a child is out, LGBTQ youth have specific and unique needs that require intention and care from service providers and mentors. For example, research indicates that LGBTQ youth are often exposed to bias, stigma and victimization during critical developmental moments in their lives. In school, many LGBTQ youth face bullying and harassment from peers. At home, parent and family rejection has been linked to increased risk-taking behavior and depression. LGBTQ youth are also disproportionately present in juvenile justice and child welfare settings and are more likely to experience homelessness. Such findings highlight an urgent need for action—especially from proven supports, like mentoring, that are uniquely positioned to foster resilience and strengthen social, emotional, and cognitive skills in youth.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All – Additional Care is Needed
In general, mentoring programs that adhere to the Elements of Effective Practice for MentoringTM are well-equipped to provide responsive services for the majority of young people that enter into their care. High quality standards for recruitment, screening, training, monitoring and support, closure and evaluation generally help to ensure that youth are able to access safe and beneficial mentoring relationships.
Unfortunately, recently piloted efforts at Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and a synthesis of early research findingshighlight that a business-as-usual approach to mentoring may leave many LGBTQ youth exposed to additional levels of hardship and risk at a time when they are most in need of advocacy, safe spaces, and culturally competent services. For example, many mentoring programs fail to ask intake questions to screen out transphobic or homophobic volunteers (or feel that it is OK to match such volunteers with youth that they assume are not LGBT). Few mentoring programs include training for staff and volunteers to know how to respond respectfully and empathetically when a child comes out. Some even lack confidentiality policies for how information about sexual orientation or gender identity is shared with parents and partner organizations. Given the potential harm that could come to a child in each of these situations, business-as-usual mentoring practices are clearly not enough. Our ethical responsibility to ensure the safety of these young people requires additional care and intention.
The LGBTQ Supplement to the Elements of Effective Practice
The LGBTQ Supplement to the Elements of Effective Practice offers step-by-step guidance for youth mentoring programs to become more intentional in their care of LGBTQ youth. Starting with program design and management tips, the supplement contains recommendations for inclusive recruitment, screening, training, monitoring and support and closure practices. At its core, this resource helps to make quality mentoring accessible for one of our nation’s most underserved populations of young people.
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