This qualitative study provides the first in-depth analysis of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ+) young people’s experiences of residential care in England. For this study, residential care is defined as living in a setting organised by a local authority in a group home or alternative, and not in foster or extended family care. Much of the current evidence comes from studies conducted in the USA with a focus on foster care, but little is known in UK research about the experiences of LGBTQ+ young people in residential care.
The findings of this small-scale study highlight heightened challenges LGBTQ+ young people in residential care experience connected to their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, and other intersecting identities that are minoritised.
The aim of this study was to understand the experiences and needs of LGBTQ+ young people living in residential care placements. The study was designed to answer the following questions:
- What are the experiences of LGBTQ+ young people in residential care?
- Do LGBTQ+ young people in residential care have particular needs and, if so, what are those?
- What are the implications of cultural matching for LGBTQ+ young people in residential care?
The PRISMA-compliant systematic scoping review was commissioned as the first phase of this project.
In the next phase, 20 one-to-one semi structured interviews were conducted with young people who self identified as LGBTQ+, were aged 16 to 25 and were either currently or previously in residential care in England for at least three months during their care experiences.
In this small-scale study, LGBTQ+ young people described challenging and unstable care experiences where they reported experiencing discrimination and unsupportive environments in relation to their gender and sexual identity and other intersecting identities (such as race/ethnicity and physical and neurodevelopmental impairments). The study highlighted the importance of individual positive relationships with professionals in developing positive identities, and the resilience and resourcefulness of young people against such challenges. The findings highlighted the six following themes:
- Experiencing multiple and unstable placements
- Persistent discrimination and marginalisation
- Regulation of gender binary norms
- Significant mental health challenges
- Importance of positive professional relationships
- Resilience and resourcefulness of young people
Whilst this was a small-scale study and therefore not generalisable to the wider residential care population, it provides an insight to the challenges that some LGBTQ+ young people experience when living in residential care placements. The findings suggest that young people experience instability, discrimination and significant mental health challenges, which can be amplified when intersected with other minority identities. The narratives also described the central importance of affirming relationships with professionals and the resilience and resourcefulness of this group.
This study provides the foundations for which future research could be built upon which further explore the experiences and challenges of LGBTQ+ young people living in residential care. Future research should include longitudinal research designs to provide a robust and accurate understanding of young people’s experiences, as well as further evaluation of the effectiveness of available training to support LGBTQ+ young people in care.