Approaches to supporting (LGBT+) young people

Approaches to supporting (LGBT+) young people: Exploring differences between school and youth work, and between the UK and Sweden

Eleanor Formby
2nd May, 12-1pm
Charles Street 12.5.07, Sheffield Hallam University

All welcome

This paper draws on findings from British Academy/Leverhulme funded research in the UK and Sweden to examine the notion of ‘supporting’ young people. This is at a time when increasing numbers of young people in the UK are being diagnosed with mental health issues, and where young people’s access to formal support or information about sex(uality) and relationships is limited, particularly in relation to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT+) identities. This is in comparison to what are often perceived to be more liberal attitudes towards sex(uality) in Sweden. At a time of declining youth service provision in the UK, the research explored young people’s experiences within formal/school and informal/outside school settings, to assess what each of these environments can offer young people. It did this through using interviews, discussion groups and vignettes with both practitioners and young people.

The research indicates that certain identities are perceived by ‘others’ in the UK as problematic, vulnerable and/or conflated with mental ill-health and assumed support needs. This contrasts with young LGBT+ people themselves, who often resist such categorisations and who call instead for a more inclusive approach to schooling and/or youth work, that does not necessarily see them as having mental health issues, but which recognises that they might sometimes require additional support. Young participants were often sceptical about what they saw as ‘tick box’ approaches, and clearer about the importance of people being informed, hence the importance of educating professionals working with young people, as well as young people themselves. In Sweden, whilst the level of support on offer to young people was impressive, this did not necessarily mean that young people did not still face challenges. In a context where ‘punishment’ was frowned upon, a less authoritative approach to schooling led to some problematic language and practices going ‘unchecked’.

Whilst Sweden may not be the liberal utopia it is sometimes perceived to be, this research suggests that there are lessons to be learned from both UK and Swedish practices – particularly in relation to understandings of ‘safeguarding’, ‘support’, and sex and relationships education – that could be to the benefit of all young people.

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