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Training for social workers improves ability to work with LGBTQ+ young people

Research into training social workers reveals that an LGBTQ+ training module is effective in both increasing knowledge about LGBTQ+ young people and challenging heteronormative assumptions that these professionals make.

25/07/23

Training for social workers improves ability to work with LGBTQ+ young people

Training for social workers has been found to be effective at improving knowledge for working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ+) young people.

The unique range of social care needs attributed to LGBTQ+ young people are often not addressed due to the lack of knowledge and guidance on how to adequately support them.

Researchers working with LGBTQ+ charity and advocacy organisation Stonewall looked at the effectiveness of one of its e-learning training modules targeted at professionals working with children and young people.

The evaluation was a randomised controlled trial (RCT), conducted with more than 600 children’s social workers in England, and formed part of the wider LGBTQ+ Young People in Social cAre (LYPSA) project that sought to improve the social care experiences of LGBTQ+ youth in England.

Professionals completed an online pre-test examining their heteronormative attitudes and beliefs, and perceived LGBTQ+ knowledge. Afterwards, participants were randomly allocated to either receive the online LGBTQ+ training or any business-as-usual training provided by their employer or local authority. Professionals were then surveyed to see if they felt more confident and knowledgeable about working with LGBTQ+ young people, benchmarked against the Heteronormativity Attitudes and Beliefs Scale (HABS) and the LGBTQ+ Knowledge Scale.

The research revealed that the social workers who took the training felt more confident about their ability to support LGBTQ+ young people in social care settings. They also had statistically significant lower scores on the Heteronormativity Attitudes and Beliefs Scale and statistically significant higher scores on the LGBTQ+ Knowledge Scale – both perceived to be positive outcomes.

“There are many recommendations for LGBTQ+ diversity training for social workers, but until now there was little research about whether any of these programmes are effective,” Dr Jason Schaub (he/him), Associate Professor of Social Work, who led the study said. “If we want young people to feel safe and supported in social care and to have positive outcomes, then it is imperative that these training programmes are evaluated, to see if they are having the desired outcomes – improving social worker knowledge and supporting them to work with LGBTQ+ young people.”

While the study provided good initial evidence of the effectiveness of the programme, researchers said there were some limitations to the research design and urged caution in interpreting the results due to the sample being self-selected, meaning the findings may not be generalisable to the social work population as a whole.

Adam Barkes (he/him), Associate Director of Education, Youth and Sport from Stonewall said they have heard “time and time again from professionals that work with children and young people that they need and want more training on how to support LGBTQ+ children and young people.”

“This study shows a clear evidence-based approach to how people working with children and young people can develop their understanding to meet the needs of the LGBTQ+ community.”

As a result of the study the research team are recommending that policymakers implement effective LGBTQ+ training for all qualified social workers and include it in pre-qualifying social work courses.

“We are delighted with the results of this substantial trial that examines a highly under-researched area. LGBTQ+ young people face particular challenges, and their social care support should take that into account and be improved as a result,” Dr Schaub added.

“Social workers tell us that they do not have enough training about this topic to feel confident about supporting with LGBTQ+ young people, which will ultimately have a detrimental impact on the young person who needs support, and the social worker.

“The findings from this study show that there is a robust, cost-effective training option that can help address this challenge, and improve the social care experience for young people in the system and the staff supporting them.”

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