Coming Out in the Care System: Participatory Research with Care Experienced LGBTQ+ young people in England

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The chapter focuses on the experience of the care system and of leaving care services in England of LGBTQ+ young people. The existing, mostly US, literature base suggests that LGBTQ young people may experience prejudice and have poorer outcomes than their heterosexual cisgender counterparts. The chapter outlines the international research literature before discussing the SpeakOut study, which was a multistrand research study in England looking at the experience of LGBTQ+ young people growing up in the care system in England, and the support services they receive. In particular, it focuses on the findings of life history interviews conducted with 46 LGBTQ+ young people aged 11- 26 with more than six months care experience. The interviews were recorded, transcribed and anonymized. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the data. Key findings included widespread experiences of stigma in relation to sexual orientation, gender identity and being in care. Experiences of one type of stigmatization led young people to be wary about sharing other aspects of their identities. Many young people who wanted to come out whilst living in care, were vigilant about the possibility of further rejection, having already experienced loss and separation from birth families. For a minority of young people growing up in care provided a safe space to explore sexual orientation or gender identity, although several reported that they did not feel safe to explore gender identity until they were at the point of leaving care. Practitioners need to be aware of both the benefits and risks of coming out in the care system and be able to advise and prepare young people for this. In order for this to be possible practitioners need to be accepting, knowledgeable and confident about the experiences of LGBTQ+ young people and the particular context of the care system.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Child and Family Social Work Research
Subtitle of host publicationKnowledge-Building, Application, and Impact
EditorsElizabeth Fernandez, Penelope Welbourne, Bethany Lee, Joyce L. C. Ma
PublisherRoutledge Press
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 7 May 2024

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