by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Part one of a two-part series exploring the link between family acceptance of LGBT children and preventing homelessness and suicide.
Caitlin Ryan, director of the California-based Family Acceptance Project (FAP) believes that the best way to keep LGBT teens off the streets and away from thoughts of suicide lies within family.
According to Caitlin, FAP is the only community research, intervention, education, and policy initiative that works to decrease major health and related risks for LGBT youth - such as suicide, substance abuse, HIV and homelessness - by focusing on the youth's family.
'We use a research-based, culturally grounded approach to help ethnically, socially, and religiously diverse families decrease rejection and increase support for their LGBT children,' FAP officials state on the organization's website, www.familyproject.sfsu.edu. 'Our team is putting research into practice by developing the first evidence-based family model of wellness, prevention, and care to strengthen families and promote positive development and healthy futures for LGBT children and youth. Once developed, we will disseminate our model across the U.S. and to groups we work with in other countries.'
FAP is directed by Caitlin Ryan at the Marian Wright Edelman Institute at San Francisco State University, and was developed by Caitlin Ryan and Rafael Dìaz in 2002.
The project is designed to:
o Study the reactions of parents, families, and caregivers to an adolescent's coming-out and LGBT identity.
o Develop training and assessment materials for health, mental health, and school-based providers, child welfare, juvenile justice, family service workers, and community service providers on working with LGBT youth and families.
o Develop resources to strengthen families to support LGBT children and adolescents.
o Develop a new model of family-related care to improve health and mental health outcomes for LGBT adolescents. Findings will be used to inform policy and practice and to change the way that systems of care address the needs of LGBT adolescents.
'Although there is an increasing amount of information about the risks and challenges facing LGB youth (with very little information about Transgender youth), we know little about their strengths and resiliency, including the strengths of families in supporting their children's health and well-being,' say FAP officials. 'Even though the family is the primary support for children and youth, and family involvement helps reduce adolescent risk, there have been no previous studies of how families affect their LGBT children's risk and resiliency. Prior to this study, little information was available to show how families respond to an adolescent's coming-out and how family and caregiver reactions affect adolescent health, mental health, and development for LGBT young people.'
Attention to family reactions is critical since increasingly, youth are coming out at younger ages, which significantly increases risk for victimization and abuse in family, school, and community settings, and provides opportunities for helping to support and strengthen families.
Victimization has long-term consequences for health and development, and impacts families as well as the targeted individuals. Early intervention can help families and caregivers build on strengths and use evidence-based materials to understand the impact of acceptance and rejection on their child's well-being, said FAP officials.
IN-DEPTH FAMILY INTERVIEWS, CASE STUDIES, AND SURVEYS
FAP uses a range of research methods including in-depth individual interviews with LGBT adolescents and their families, case studies, and surveys to understand how family reactions to an LGBT young person affect their health, mental health, and wellbeing.
'The first part of our project includes in-depth individual interviews with LGBT adolescents and their families throughout California. We reached out to youth from a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and geographic areas,' said officials.
This included youth from accepting, ambivalent, and rejecting families; youth living in gated, middle-class, low income, farming, and rural communities; youth in immigrant families, youth in foster care, and adjudicated and homeless youth and their families.
FAP also reached youth and their families through schools, mainstream and LGBT youth service organizations, youth and family service agencies, peer outreach workers, foster care, and residential programs.
'Our interviews focused on family history and child development, sexual orientation and gender identity, religious beliefs and values, sexual orientation, culture and ethnicity, coming out, family response and adaptation over time, school-based experiences and victimization, resiliency and strength, sources of support, as well as future goals and aspirations,' said FAP officials.
They found that families have a range of reactions to their children's LGBT identity and express their reactions through behaviors that affect their children's health and mental health outcomes. The research linked family responses with risk and protective factors for key concerns including sexual health, HIV infection, substance use, depression, suicide, and wellbeing. In addition, they assessed the availability of services for families of LGBT youth to help develop research-based resources and interventions to educate families and increase family support for their LGBT children.
'We are using our findings to develop family-education materials in several languages, working with diverse families with LGBT children, adolescents and young adults,' FAP reports.
The organization is developing provider risk-resiliency assessment materials and resources to increase providers' cultural competency and are collaborating with community agencies to help us develop a new research-based family approach to help support LGBT children and youth in a wide range of settings.
COLLABORATION WITH KEY COMMUNITY GROUPS
The project is being carried out in collaboration with key community groups and representatives from community organizations that work with youth in schools, health care settings and families, including PFLAG, the GSA Network, and the Adolescent Health Working Group.
FAP is funded by a growing family of individual donors, agencies, and visionary foundations including The California Endowment, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and by a matching grant by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
'We're very resourceful in finding volunteers and donated services to make the best use of our limited resources,' say officials. 'However, your individual or organizational contribution can make a significant difference in helping us carry out the project.'
To make an online contribution go to www.applyweb.com/public/contribute?s=sfudonat
(Note: Under 'About Your Gift,' select Family Acceptance Project from the drop-down menu).
For more information on donating to the project, contact the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (415) 522-5558.
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