27 September, 2021

Saying it, thinking it and doing it

Members of the Youth Support Team meet regularly as part of our equalities, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy to discuss how EDI impacts on us as individuals and employees and how we can address issues as they impact on the young people we serve and the services we provide to them. Here, Stacy Lewis discusses some of the reasons why we have implemented new fields in the data gathering systems we use.

My name is Stacy and I’m the manager of the Management Information Team within the YST and I am also a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Group.  My reasons for becoming part of the D&I group is multiple, from my own neurodiversity to seeing different family members come out or consider their own sexual orientation and struggles with mental health.

Recently the Gloucestershire Youth Support Team held a Pride Afternoon Tea – an opportunity for staff to exchange ideas and gain some understanding about being part of the Pride community. 

Gaining some Insight….

One of the main insights for staff was that, as professionals, we need to start a conversation with all the young people we meet that lets them know that we, as a service and as practitioners, are open to supporting and accepting them and their identities from the offset. This might be particularly true in relation to their sexual orientation and gender identity. Young people will not always volunteer this information about themselves just because we are ‘nice people’. They need to know that we are open to these discussions and that they will be supported if they choose to share this information with us.

Drive to change.

As part of our drive to become more diverse and inclusive for young people and our staff, Diversity and Inclusion has become a standard agenda item for all YST teams.

For the Management Information (MI) team this became an opportunity to affect the practise of operational staff and support a change in culture regarding how young people think and identify their sexual orientation and gender.

Although statutory agencies currently define gender as female, male and other, the MI team recognised the need for young people to be able to define themselves as they see themselves.  Because the YST must hold information as defined by education and the Youth Justice Board this has meant creating additional fields in the service database. 

Agreeing which definitions would be used has provided an opportunity for the team and operational workers to research definition and their meanings – the learning never stops.

How does this change our practice?

Asking workers to gain information from a young person as they are getting to know them is often guided by the information fields that need filling in, in our systems.  Conversations about gender identity or sexual orientation may not occur as there is an often-implied bias towards heterosexual or cisgender identities - if you’re not sure what this is here is a link to find out more.

It is a conversation not a question

As a service we are now committing ourselves to having conversations about gender identity and sexual orientation.  As a workforce we will need to have conversations with each other about how we feel and how best to approach this.  Our opening gambit shouldn’t be ‘are you….’ but talking about our commitment towards reaching out and supporting diversity and wanting to know how a young person sees themselves – and perhaps provide some ideas of what that may look like, if they are not sure themselves.

Recognising this is not a ‘tick box’ exercise and understanding this is a chance to genuinely get to know and give voice to a subject that is not talked about enough.  What will having these conversations bring up? Maybe the chance to change and educate young people’s views or provide the motivation for workers to learn more about sexuality and identity.  And this is before a young person can come forward and tell us about feeling different or being happy about being part of the LGBTQI+ community.  For resources on this visit www.stonewall.org.uk

Shifting our culture and beyond

As the Youth Support Team, we can start using a service database to direct conversations about diversity so we can become more inclusive.By having fields where the choice is more open and needing more thought, the prompt for practitioners to start ‘saying it’ by beginning a conversation with a young person that asks how they identify themselves – we may be in for a few surprises.

Instead of what is generally anticipated, a young person could define themselves differently to what we might assume, and if they do, practitioners will need to start ‘thinking it’ and how that might impact on a young person.The more understanding of the young people we support the more inclusive we can become in ‘doing it’ and through that process, the results might be to create more safe spaces for LGBTQI+ individuals and groups, effectively challenge other professionals and agencies to also be more aware and inclusive.