Identifying and Serving LGBTQ Youth: Case Studies of Runaway and Homeless Youth Program Grantees. B. Issues for Policymakers and Practitioners to Consider


The case study findings point to four issues related to serving LGBTQ RHY for policymakers and practitioners to consider: (1) ensuring consistency and accuracy in collecting data on clients’ sexual orientation and gender identity, (2) providing guidance on management and analysis of these data, (3) providing technical assistance to agencies whose service areas lack extensive LGBTQ resources, and (4) developing and evaluating interventions relevant to LGBTQ RHY.

Ensuring consistency and accuracy in data collection. Data collection practices in case study agencies indicate that not all RHY Program grantees systematically collect and record information on sexual orientation and gender identity. Among case study agencies that do collect these data, the content of questions on agency forms varies. As a result, comparisons of data across organizations are likely to be difficult. In addition, agencies collect information at different times. To improve the consistency and accuracy of administrative data on these topics, it may be beneficial to offer providers guidance on preferred content for questions about sexual orientation and gender identity and recommended methods for asking them. This advice could draw on recommendations for survey questions addressing these topics (see, for example, Sexual Minority Assessment Research Team 2009). In addition, clear communication to RHY program staff about why this information is needed would likely promote more consistent data collection efforts.

Providers also may need to consider whether separate processes are necessary to collect data for administrative purposes (for example, to understand the demographics of an agency’s clientele overall) and for guiding service provision. This distinction might help agencies collect more accurate counts of LGBTQ youth served. For example, one representative of a partner agency suggested that agencies might address youths’ potential reticence to share information on LGBTQ identity by collecting data through an anonymous online questionnaire administered to youth seeking assistance. This mode would allow an agency to gather data on the number of youth who identify as LGBTQ without youth being asked to disclose the information to a staff member during an initial intake session or assessment. To help staff plan services appropriately, they could record in individual case files any information gathered later about a youth’s LGBTQ status.

Management and analysis of data on LGBTQ identity. In addition to standardized practices for asking questions on sexual orientation and gender identity, agencies may benefit from guidance on when this information should be recorded in case records, as well as on when and to whom it should be disclosed. This type of guidance could help address program staff members’ concerns about the risk of disclosure, which may discourage them from collecting data on LGBTQ status. Procedures for RHY programs could be modeled on existing guidance for child welfare professionals (Wilber 2013).

Among case study agencies that collect demographic data on youth, none analyze these data to explore whether services received differ among demographic groups. Such analyses could help agencies identify and address disparities that may exist between LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ youth or among subpopulations of LGBTQ youth. Agencies might not examine data in this way because (1) they lack the staff resources, (2) disaggregating service data by demographic group is not the agency’s general practice, or (3) their data systems do not support these types of analyses. Programs might benefit from examples of how disaggregated data can be used for assessing service delivery. They might also require assistance building capacity for internal data management and analysis.

Technical assistance for agencies whose service areas lack extensive LGBTQ resources. Developing cultural competency among staff members and identifying community resources to help serve LGBTQ RHY were particularly challenging for agencies in places without an extensive network of LGBTQ organizations. One option for addressing this challenge is to offer technical assistance or training on LGBTQ issues regularly and make it easily accessible via online participation. Another would be to create opportunities for RHY providers to share information on strategies for serving LGBTQ RHY, perhaps by creating an online repository for documents on best practices.

Developing and evaluating interventions targeting LGBTQ youth. RHY providers will likely benefit from specification, dissemination, and evaluation of models for serving LGBTQ youth effectively. FYSB is providing support for identifying LGBTQ-specific interventions through grants to help build capacity among RHY providers in serving LGBTQ youth. Rigorous evaluations of interventions targeting LGBTQ RHY could help identify models that are effective for these populations.

Evaluations of program models targeting LGBTQ RHY might explore whether the models are most effective when offered as separate program components or as modifications to services available to RHY in general. Studies might also address the effectiveness of tailoring specific types of services, such as family reunification support or individual counseling, to the particular needs and circumstances of LGBTQ RHY.

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