Simple Solutions to Create Inclusive and Welcoming Training Material
According to a 2017 Gallup poll, as indicated on the “LGBTQ Family Fact Sheet (http://bit.ly/2QGwOhR), approximately 4.5% of the adult population in the United States identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. That equates to 11 million adults. Of these 11 million adults, 29% have children, and 15% have an income below $24,000. Further, LGBTQ individuals and same-sex couples raising children have lower incomes than their straight counterparts. The Family Equality Council reports that almost 24% of children raised by “same-sex couples live in poverty compared with 14% of children being raised by different-sex couples,” according to the “LGBTQ Family Fact Sheet.” Family support professionals are well situated to provide care and support to low-income families with children. However, although poverty and homelessness disproportionately impact LGBTQ individuals, support professionals often feel unprepared or ill equipped to assist LGBTQ families.
Progress is being made in the area of equipping family support professionals with the appropriate tools to provide services to households in which there is an LGBTQ child. For example, among many other guides, publications, and recommendations, in 2014 the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration published a resource guide for practitioners to help families support their LGBTQ children (http://bit.ly/2ZISeiq). Beyond assistance in helping to provide the right support to their LGBTQ children, LGBTQ parents need care that is at least inclusive of marginalized identities. Unfortunately, LGBTQ history includes many experiences of discrimination and prejudice from government officials, clinical staff, and other professionals. This history has helped to create barriers to LGBTQ individuals receiving necessary care. Without this care, health and income disparities will continue to grow. This article provides two strategies to create inclusive and affirming professional development and educational curriculum for home visitors. Attending to inclusive care will aid in breaking down these barriers by creating a more affirming culture among family support professionals.
First, recognizing that developing new material or overhauling current educational materials takes time and money, we present a simple, low-stakes (to the organization providing services) solution. This solution includes simple day-to-day changes that can be incorporated slowly overtime as new materials are developed and may be easily applied to adaptable material (e.g., training presentation slides) to minimize microaggressions experienced by LGBTQ families. Microaggressions are indirect, subtle actions that discriminate against and further marginalize groups of people based on an identity. Simple, minor modifications to representation will decrease microaggressions, which can go a long way in creating more inclusive spaces for everyone. For example, the language used in modules can often create outgroups when straight and cis-centric language such as mom and dad, husband and wife, or boy and girl is used. This language limits the application of the content by neglecting individuals who do not identify with these categories. It also limits family support professionals’ ability to broaden their perspective to be inclusive of all identities.
For example, a home visitor should be able to assist a parent in identifying developmental milestones and behaviors. A module providing continuing education is focused on identifying developmentally appropriate food and nutrition skills for young children. Within the module, a vignette tells the story of a home visitor who notices that the mother has not yet begun giving a 7-month-old child solid food.
In this example, the use of the term mother is unnecessary in communicating the educational message of the material. A basic word change from mother to caregiver creates a more inclusive lexicon among family support professionals and illustrates a simple modification that can reduce microaggressions and create a dynamic that is more welcoming and affirming.
Making simple changes to the language used in educational materials can go a long way in creating a more inclusive culture. It is also a way to bring along colleagues who may not be convinced that this work is important or who are not yet ready to speak specifically about LGBTQ families. One technique to create a space to have this conversation would be to adjust the language throughout a presentation or document to take out gendered terms and phrases. After the presentation or reviewing the edited document, discuss the difference. Did anyone notice? Did it feel funky? Resistant colleagues might not have noticed. Margit Tavits and Efren O. Perez presented research findings, published in the August 20, 2019, issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, demonstrating that using gender-neutral language decreases bias in favor of gender roles and categories and develops more positive attitudes toward LGBTQ individuals. The effort (small) to impact (large) ratio of these changes on the well-being of families makes the language adjustment a worthwhile endeavor. These small changes may encourage families to seek the care they need from professionals they trust and who they know are well trained.
The second solution we discuss is to develop additional material that focuses on LGBTQ families. This material should both celebrate the strengths and highlight the unique needs of LGBTQ families. Additional content can and should be incorporated throughout training materials. However, considering the many constraints to adapting current material, it may be more feasible to create a separate module or training session. This could include information recognizing that LGBTQ families may not have as much family support available to them if their family of origin is not accepting.
Additionally, these modules could include information about marriage equality and its impact on families. Although marriage equality is currently the law in the United States, some individuals with whom family support professionals work may have a marriage that isn’t recognized in the United States because, having been barred from that right in the past, the couple was married in a different country. Even though some LGBTQ families have a federally recognized marriage, they are still likely to face barriers and stressors with the federal government concerning certain benefits (e.g., social security benefits) and state governments (e.g., adoption laws) that their straight counterparts do not have to deal with. The increased stress and limited resources LGBTQ families typically encounter are incredibly influential to their daily lives. For example, some families are concerned with saving enough money for adoption, while many LGBTQ families may be concerned with finding an agency that will allow them to adopt, legally adding a second parent to records and documentation, and working where family leave policies recognize LGBTQ parents. Increasing awareness of these barriers in support professionals working with these families will have a positive impact on LGBTQ families.
LGBTQ families have many strengths. Support professionals are well positioned to aid in identifying and cultivating these strengths. Unfortunately, the historic and current treatment of LGBTQ families creates barriers to receiving services, and this is exacerbated by the lack of confidence family support professionals may feel when working in this context. The approaches discussed here are intended to jumpstart progress toward the goal of inclusive education for families. Modifying educational materials and designing pertinent training for support professionals can assist family services to become more affirming of and accessible to LGBTQ families.
Greta L. Stuhlsatz, Ph.D., CFLE is an Assistant Researcher Senior at the University of Kansas with the Center for Public Partnerships and Research; [email protected].
Ashley B. Taylor, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre at the University of British Columbia.