Tips on working with trans young people

Nigel Nash, Cafcass Service Manager

To help raise awareness as part of LGBT History Month, we spoke to Cafcass Service Manager Nigel Nash about his practice knowledge of working with and supporting trans young people. Here Nigel shares guidance and developments in this area of practice.

“A key point in working with young people who may be exploring or questioning their gender identity is not to make assumptions.

As with any young person or teenager, they may not always want to talk to you, or if they do, they may find it very hard to talk about their gender questioning. It’s a highly sensitive and personal experience, and many of us would find such things difficult to discuss with someone we don’t know well, or at all.

As with all young people, creative approaches can help create a rapport with them. The timing, place and who is present when interviewing are all important considerations to ensure they are supported, and not put under pressure.

In cases where young people are reticent to talk to you it can become easy to rely a lot on what others have said about them. While information from family and those around the young person can be helpful, caution is needed because they too may be making assumptions. For example, a young person, assigned male at birth, may be considered by professionals or family members, to be transgender because they were acting in a feminine way or observed to be wearing women’s clothes or makeup. The reality is that such behaviour of itself could mean any number of things, and may have nothing to do with gender.  The young person themselves is the best person to tell you what is going on for them and we must avoid labelling.

The issue of how to refer to a trans young person is also an important one. Do we use a gender pronoun, or do we use a more generic pronoun, such as ‘they’ or he/him, she/her, they/them or the gender-neutral pronouns hir/zi? Ask the young person how they would like to be referred to and what name they want to be called.

An important distinction is that gender and sexual orientation are completely different. People sometimes confuse the two.  As with gender identity, sexual orientation is a highly personal matter and again, assumptions shouldn’t be made in this area on the basis of reported behaviour.

Check resources and refer to helpful websites before meeting with your young person. If you develop a good rapport, they will put you right, if you get things wrong. But they should be able to expect that the professionals working with them have been interested enough to do some research into their issues. The Cafcass Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB) will soon be meeting with young members of the Allsorts Youth Project in Brighton to discuss Top Tips for working with lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) young people. Once finalised these tips will shared on the Cafcass website and be very helpful as they will be based on the experiences of young people working with professionals.

Cafcass has also been asked to work on a protocol with local authorities and courts on how best to meet the needs of looked-after young people who identify as trans. This is particularly to inform proceedings where a young person is seeking treatment, such as hormone blockers, to pause the development of unwanted sex hormones, putting the development on hold. Young people need a speedy resolution of such decisions for them, and they should not be disadvantaged just because they are a looked-after child. However, experience in some cases has shown that, despite expert advice, there is often delay in young people accessing the help they need. This can cause emotional problems, which can sometimes result in episodes of self-harming. It makes the process much harder for them than it may be for another young person whose parents may simply be able to make decisions about their child’s care and treatment. We will provide an update when development of the protocol is finalised.”

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