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'There needs to be much more done': Advocate stresses supports needed for LGBTQ2S+ youth

The province needs to do more to address higher rates of homelessness, suicide and addictions among LGBTQ2S+ youth, according to a new report

Alberta Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff

JASON FRANSON / The Canadian Press

Alberta Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff

The province’s Child and Youth Advocate says LGBTQ2S+ youth continue to face higher levels of homelessness, addictions and suicide, but is hopeful that positive change is on the horizon.

On Monday, Advocate Del Graff released a special report focused on LGBTQ2S+ youth in the child welfare and youth justice systems.

Graff mentioned the protection of gay-straight alliances in schools and policies in young offender institutions that allow transgender people to have a say in where they’re placed as examples of positive steps the province is making in protecting LGBTQ2S+ youth.

“There’s some recognition that we’re in a time of potential change that wasn’t there a number of years ago,” Graff said.

But LGBTQ2S+ youth still experience higher levels of homelessness, suicide, mental illness, addictions and violence.

"The fact is there still needs to be much more done for sexual and gender diverse young people who want to feel accepted, who want to feel a sense of belonging, who want to have access to the services they need and in fact deserve," Graff said.

One of the recommendations Graff made was for employees in the child welfare and youth justice systems to have training and education specific to LGBTQ2S+ people. That's something that would have made a world of difference for youth advocate Stephan Bureau, who works with Graff's office to provide a young person's perspective.

Bureau was first taken into care at the age of six months due to drug and violence issues at his home, and spent much of his life either in child care, at youth shelters or in supportive living environments.

At 17, he lost his aunt, who had permanent custody of him. But after she died, there was no one to step in.

“I didn’t get a caseworker or get involved with child services. Nothing really happened because nobody ever came to me and said hey do you need help? I didn’t know I could get help,” Bureau said.

Stephan Bureau, 24, is a youth advocate with Alberta's Office of the Child and Youth Advocate.

Omar Mosleh/Metro

Stephan Bureau, 24, is a youth advocate with Alberta's Office of the Child and Youth Advocate.

Throughout it all, he was also coming to terms with his sexual orientation. He said his support worker's knowledge of issues facing LGBTQ2S+ youth was "non-existent". One of the main challenges was a lack of consistency and stability with support workers.

“It was a new worker every week who didn’t even care to know our names,” Bureau said.

“I wasn’t in a situation where I felt comfortable enough to even talk about my sexuality at all,” he added.

Graff said it's critical support workers help LGBTQ2S+ workers feel comfortable with their identity in order to further reduce the chances of facing addictions or mental health challenges. It's also important to build more long-term, stable relationships.

Bureau finally found a case worker whom he established a positive relationship with and still speaks with today. But it shouldn't be a matter of "lucking out" to get a support worker who understands the barriers facing LGBTQ2S+ youth.

“I felt for the first time in a long time that I was considered. And it just made such a big difference ... A kid who’s in care who’s LGBTQ and needs that support, they shouldn’t have to wonder whether they can have that conversation.”

The information in the report was gathered through one-on-one interviews, focus groups and online surveys with more than 280 young people and stakeholders such as teachers, caregivers and health professionals.

Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee issued a release thanking the advocate for his special report. She said the province recognizes they must to more to support LGBTQ2S+ youth, pointing to their efforts with Bill 24 as an example work currently underway.

The recommendations are as follows:

-Government employees in the child welfare and youth justice systems must have training and education specific to LGBTQ2S+ people.

-The province’s various ministries must work with community groups, organizations, trained foster parents and whoever possible to create specific living options for LGBTQ2S+ people.

-The ministries should review and revise their policies and practices in relation to identity, safety, appropriate places to live, and services and supports for LGBTQ2S+ youth.

-The Ministry of Children’s Services should establish a decision-making policy for employees serving as guardians, specific to consent for medical intervention and support services for young transgender people.

-Young people in the care of the government must receive appropriate and inclusive sexual health education.

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