About this guide

This guide responds to a recommendation in the Youth Leaving Care Working Group’s Blueprint for Fundamental Change to Ontario’s Child Welfare System footnote 3  to increase caregiver capacity to serve LGBT2SQ children and youth. It also responds to other calls for action to better support LGBT2SQ children and youth in the child welfare system, including:

  • The Residential Services Review Panel’s report, Because Young People Matter: Report of the Residential Services Review Panel;footnote 4.
  • Egale Canada Human Rights Trust’s LGBTQ Youth Suicide Prevention Summit 2012: Report on Outcomes and Recommendations;footnote 5 and
  • The You Are Not Alone and Be Our Allyfootnote 6 initiatives of the Ontario Child Advocate (OCA).footnote 7.

In Safe and Caring Places for Children and Youth: Ontario’s Blueprint for Building a New System of Licensed Residential Services (July 2017), the government committed to developing a renewed approach to inclusion in residential services, which includes recognizing the unique needs of LGBT2SQ children and youth. The release of Serving LGBT2SQ Children and Youth in the Child Welfare System: A Resource Guide is an important step to meeting this commitment and increasing the capacity of the child welfare system to better meet the needs of LGBT2SQ children and youth.

The guide provides information and practical tools on how to support LGBT2SQ children and youth involved with the child welfare system and how to create child welfare services that are responsive to their needs. It recognizes that societies and residential service providers are at different stages in their work to better support LGBT2SQ children and youth, and have varied resources and strategies to do this. The guide can help those who are just beginning to develop policies and practices, and others that are looking to expand or enhance their current efforts.

The guide is organized into the following parts:

  • Part 2 gives an overview of some barriers and biases faced by LGBT2SQ children and youth in the child welfare system, and key concepts that will help readers understand information contained in later sections.
  • Part 3 outlines how caregivers and service providers can provide supportive, inclusive, and affirming services for LGBT2SQ children and youth in the child welfare system.
  • Part 4 examines the key elements necessary for organizations to become LGBT2SQ-affirming and inclusive.
  • Part 5 includes information on relevant organizations and networks, terms and definitions, samples of LGBT2SQ-affirming and inclusive policies, practices and forms, and a list of resources to support organizations, workers, caregivers, and families in their ongoing efforts to provide affirming and inclusive services to LGBT2SQ children, youth, and families involved with the child welfare system.

The guide was informed by a review of current research and promising practices, by the voices of LGBT2SQ children and youth, and by staff and caregivers involved with the child welfare system. More specifically, this included:

  • a review of research on the experiences of LGBT2SQ children and youth involved with the child welfare system, and on promising practices;
  • a review of available resources and toolkits about serving LGBT2SQ children and youth in the child welfare system, and in related sectors (e.g., education, youth justice);
  • surveys of youth, caregivers, residential service providers, and child protection workers and leaders, on challenges for LGBT2SQ children and youth in Ontario’s child welfare system, current practices for serving LGBT2SQ children and youth, and the kinds of information and training that staff, volunteers, and caregivers need in order to provide affirming services to LGBT2SQ children and youth;
  • youth-led focus groups with LGBT2SQ youth, in five locations across the province, about their experiences with the child welfare system, and their suggestions for making it more LGBT2SQ-inclusive;
  • interviews and email surveys with key informants, including those with expertise in serving specific LGBT2SQ populations (e.g., Indigenous, Black and racialized communities, people with disabilities, smaller population centres); and
  • input from an Advisory Committee made up of youth and representatives from the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS), the Association of Native Child and Family Service Agencies of Ontario (ANCFSAO), the Office of the Ontario Child Advocate (OCA), the Ontario Association of Residences Treating Youth (OARTY), the Foster Parents Society of Ontario (FPSO), Rainbow Health Ontario (RHO), societies, and foster parents.

We would like to thank the children, youth, workers, caregivers, and leaders who contributed to this guide by sharing their experiences, advice, and recommendations on how to create a child welfare system that can better serve and meet the needs of LGBT2SQ children and youth across Ontario.

Limits of the guidefootnote 8

This guide is a resource only and does not have the force and effect of ministry legislation, regulations, or policies. The guide is not intended to provide readers with clinical or legal advice. References concerning specific policies and legislation are current as of the publication date and are subject to change. References to resource and reference materials, Internet sites, and organizations are included for information only. Additionally, all references included from outside sources do not constitute or imply their endorsement of the guide. The MCYS is not responsible for the quality of the content on non-ministry Internet sites or for ensuring that the content of the material on non-ministry Internet sites listed is up to date. The linked websites may not be available in French, unless otherwise stated. Readers should consult with appropriate management and legal counsel in their organization and give consideration to the implications of all statutory requirements, including those under Ontario’s child and family services legislation, in the development and application of LGBT2SQ-affirming and inclusive policies and programs.

A note on language

The words we use to talk about and with LGBT2SQ children and youth are important. Choosing language that reflects respect for, and understanding of, their identities is one of the simplest ways to communicate support, and to create safer and affirming spaces for LGBT2SQ children and youth.

Some terms may be unfamiliar and confusing. While it is normal to have concerns about “getting it right,” asking an individual how they wish to be identified can help to show support for their identity and experiences, and is an important first step toward being an ally.

This information in this guide is current to the time of publishing. Please refer to the links provided for inquiries about the most up-to-date information.

Meet the Gender Unicornfootnote 9 —a fun way to explore, understand, and explain the differences and interconnectedness of terms like gender identity, gender expression, sex assigned at birth, and sexual orientation:footnote 10.

The Gender Unicorn

Children and youth who identify as LGBT2SQ are not a homogeneous group. Sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are not set at birth - they can change over time. Each child and youth is unique in how they identify. The following chart highlights identities that you will read about throughout the guidefootnote 11.

Sex-related definitions

IdentityWhat it usually means
Sex/Assigned sexThe classification of a person as male, female, or intersex based on biological characteristics, including chromosomes, hormones, external genitalia, and reproductive organs. The term “assigned sex” is used to acknowledge that sex is often a value determined by medical professionals and is commonly assigned to newborns based on visual assessment of external genitalia. Inclusion here of the recognized category of “intersex,” frequently overlooked in discussions of sex, serves as a reminder that even at the level of biology, sex is not a binary system.
IntersexA person whose chromosomal, hormonal, and/or anatomical sex characteristics fall outside the conventional classifications of male or female.

Sexual orientation-related definitions

IdentityWhat it usually means
Sexual orientationA term that classifies a person’s potential for emotional, intellectual, spiritual, intimate, romantic, and/or sexual interest in other people, often based on their sex and/or gender. Sexual orientation is often referred to as attraction.
LesbianA woman-identified person who experiences attraction towards other women.
GayA person who experiences attraction to individuals of the same sex/assigned sex and/or gender identity. The word “gay” can be used to refer to attraction experienced by both men and women, or only men.
BisexualA person who experiences attraction towards more than one sex/assigned sex or gender identity.
PansexualA person who experiences attraction to individuals with diverse sexes/ assigned sexes, gender identities, and gender expressions.
AsexualAn individual who may not experience sexual attraction or desire to engage in sexual activity.

Gender-related definitions

IdentityWhat it usually means
Genderfootnote 12Gender is based on the expectations and stereotypes about behaviours, actions, and roles linked to being a "man" or "woman" within a particular culture or society. The social norms related to gender can vary depending on the culture, and can change over time.
Gender identityA person's internal and individual experience of gender. This could include an internal sense of being a man, woman, both, neither, or another gender entirely. A person's gender identity may or may not correspond with social expectations associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. Since gender identity is internal, it is not necessarily visible to others.
Gender expressionThe way a person presents and communicates gender within a social context. Gender can be expressed through clothing, speech, body language, hairstyle, voice, and/or the emphasis or de-emphasis of bodily characteristics or behaviours, which are often associated with masculinity and femininity. The ways in which gender is expressed are culturally specific and may change over time.

Gender identity-related definitions

IdentityWhat it usually means
TransThe term trans is frequently used as an umbrella term for a variety of other terms, including transgender, transsexual, and can also refer to terms like genderqueer, agender, bigender, Two-Spirit, etc. Some people may identify with these or other specific terms, but not with the term trans. Similarly, some people may identify as trans, but not with other terms under the trans umbrella. At their simplest, each of these terms has commonalities with the term trans, and yet they are all unique in their specific reference to the context of, and specific relationships between, conceptions of gender identity and sex/assigned sex.
TransgenderA person who does not identify (in full or partially) with the gender associated with their sex assigned at birth (sex/assigned sex).
Gender diverse/ Gender independentAn umbrella term for gender identities and/or gender expressions that differ from cultural or societal expectations based on assigned sex. Individuals may identify and express themselves as “feminine men” or “masculine women,” or as androgynous, outside of the categories “boy/man” and “girl/woman.” People who are gender non-conforming may or may not identify as trans.
Gender fluidThe term gender fluid refers to the potential for change in ideas, experiences, and expressions of gender at an individual and/or societal level. This concept recognizes the potential for individual movement within a gender spectrum when it comes to self-presentation or expression. Some people may choose to identify as gender fluid.
GenderqueerA person whose gender identity and/or expression may not correspond with social and cultural gender expectations. Individuals who identify as genderqueer may move between gender identities, identify with multiple genders, or reject the gender binary or gender altogether.
Gender creative footnote 13 A term sometimes used to refer to children or youth who identify and express their gender in ways that do not align with the social expectations associated with the sex assigned to them at birth (sex/assigned sex).
CisgenderThe term used to describe individuals whose gender identity or expression aligns with those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth.

Gender identity and sexual orientation-related definitions

IdentityWhat it usually means
Two-Spiritfootnote 14The term Two-Spirit encompasses Indigenous cultures, spiritual beliefs, and values, as well as sexual orientation and gender identity. It is a term used by some, but not all, Indigenous people to describe their gender, sexual orientation, and/or sex and gender roles in Indigenous ways, using traditional terms and concepts. The Two-Spirit identity affirms the interrelatedness of all aspects of identity, including gender, sexuality, community, culture, and spirituality. For further information and resources on Two-Spirit communities, please visit: http://www.nativeyouthsexualhealth.com/twospiritdirectory.html
QueerA term used by some members of LGBT2SQ communities, as a symbol of pride and affirmation of diversity. It can be used by a community to encompass a broad spectrum of identities related to sex/assigned sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation, or by an individual to reflect the interrelatedness of these aspects of their identity. Queer was historically a derogatory term for difference, used in particular to insult LGBT2SQ people and communities. Although sometimes still used as a slur, the term has been reclaimed by many individuals within LGBT2SQ communities.
Questioningfootnote 15A term used to describe those who are in a process of discovery and exploration about their sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression.