Intake, Assessment and Service Planning for LGBT2SQ Children and Youth

There are specific requirements outlined in legislation, regulation, and standards that must be followed by societies and child protection workers in determining if a child or youth is in need of protection and in providing child protection services, when appropriate. This section outlines key stages of this process and discusses how child protection workers can become more informed about the experiences and needs of LGBT2SQ children, youth, and families, and use their clinical assessment skills to explore issues of safety and wellbeing that are related to identity at each stage of a child protection case.

Intake: Receiving a Referral and Determining the Appropriate Response

When a society receives a report or information that a child or youth is or may be in need of protection, they assess the referral in accordance with the requirements in the Ontario Child Protection Standards (the Standards) and apply the Ontario Child Welfare Eligibility Spectrum (the Spectrum) to support decision making about eligibility for child protection services. The child protection worker uses the Spectrum in combination with other available information about protective factors, safety threats and risks, and patterns of previous child welfare involvement, to determine the most appropriate response to the referral that meets the unique needs of children and youth (for safety) and their families (for support).

When determining eligibility for services for LGBT2SQ children and youth, based on the information available, child protection workers should also consider to what extent, if any, sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression are contributing factors associated with the referral for child welfare services and the child or youth’s level of safety and risk. In doing so, child protection workers can more adequately evaluate the unique needs of the child or youth and their family, and determine the most appropriate response.

Conducting a Safety Assessment and Risk Assessment

If a child protection worker determines that an investigation is required, the Standards guide the child protection worker in making decisions about the child’s needs and care—through the investigative phase of service, to planning for ongoing case management, and throughout the life of the case.

In accordance with the Standards, a child protection worker first conducts a safety assessment to determine the level of immediate danger to a child or youth. The child protection worker considers the immediate threat of harm and the seriousness of the harm or danger given the current information and circumstances. The child protection worker also conducts a risk assessment to determine the likelihood of future risk of child maltreatment due to family characteristics, behaviours, and functioning. The results of the risk assessment are intended to inform case decision making and service provision.

It is important to note that a determination for ongoing intervention must be based on the existing grounds for determining whether a child is in need of protection in accordance with the Standards and the Spectrum. The determination that the child is in need of protection is independent of a family’s response to a child’s LGBT2SQ identity, unless there is harm or risk of harm that is sufficient to ground the determination that the child or youth is in need of protection. The existence of strife within the family over the child or youth’s LGBT2SQ identity, even if that strife includes a degree of poor treatment, does not, in and of itself, create a ground for a child welfare intervention.

Family rejection is an important factor to identify and assess when determining whether a child or youth is in need of protection, as family rejection of the child or youth’s sexual and/or gender identity can increase a child or youth’s risk of harm, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

When conducting the safety and risk assessments for children and youth who identify as, or may be, LGBT2SQ, child protection workers can include consideration of whether the parents’ or caregivers’ attitudes and/or response towards the child or youth’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression are putting the child or youth at risk of emotional, physical, or sexual harm.69 The child protection worker can assess the effects of family rejection or acceptance on the wellbeing of LGBT2SQ children and youth.70

When conducting the safety and risk assessment, a child protection worker may wish to consider whether the LGBT2SQ child or youth is experiencing, or is at risk of, maltreatment and rejecting behaviours. Some examples include:

After an investigation has concluded, if there is a determination that the child or youth is in need of protection and the case is transferred to ongoing services, the focus of ongoing services is on protecting the child(ren) and engaging families in services and other community supports in order to reduce the likelihood of future harm to the child(ren). At this stage in the child protection case, it is critical that child protection workers assist the child or youth determined to be in need of protection, and their families, with identifying and accessing community services that are affirming and support acceptance of diverse sexual and gender identities.

Ongoing Service Case Management

Once a decision is made that the child/youth and family will receive ongoing child protection services from a society, the child protection worker will develop a service plan (for both in/out of care services). The service plan is the link between assessment and intervention and guides the family, child protection worker, other service providers, and all casework activities toward well-defined goals and outcomes against which progress can be measured over time. The service plan utilizes family strengths and targets areas of need and is intended to reduce and/or eliminate risk, and increase the safety and wellbeing of the child or youth and family.

The child-focused and family-centred approach to service delivery is both a philosophy and a practice that supports active and meaningful participation of families and their support system in case planning and when service decisions are being made. Together, a child protection worker and the family identify intervention strategies and services that would assist in the reduction and/or elimination of risk for the LGBT2SQ child or youth, to increase their safety and wellbeing and, if the service plan involves an out-of-home placement, identify the path to family reunification.

The goal of the service plan, developed through collaboration and engagement with the family and child or youth, is to address the behaviours that have created the need for protection, and should consider:

In situations where a parent-child separation is required, the chosen placement should be one that affirms the child or youth’s LGBT2SQ identity72. Additionally, the service plan can consider individuals, organizations, and professionals from whom the child or youth may wish to receive more support related to their LGBT2SQ identity.

The following chart identifies considerations for child protection workers when using mandated tools with LGBT2SQ children and youth, and/or their families. While these tools are required and there is structure to them, workers can apply them in ways that support LGBT2SQ children, youth, and families, and affirm their identities. The considerations are not exclusive or limited to any one of the tools and can be used at all stages of case management.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment

Description: Assists child protection workers to identify the presence of family and child/youth strengths and resources by identifying the needs of family members and utilizing family strengths while targeting areas of need.

Consideration when using the tools:

Plan of Care

Description: Specifies the plan for a child/youth when receiving services from a society, including desired outcomes linked to the child/youth's needs and strengths.

Consideration when using the tools:

Assessment and Action Record (AAR)

Description: Tracks the progress of a child/youth in care in seven life dimensions: health, education, identity, family and social relationships, social presentation, emotional and behavioural development, and self-care skills. The AAR helps child welfare professionals, families, and caregivers assess a child/youth's needs, develop high-quality plans of care, and monitor the child/youth's progress from year to year.

Consideration when using the tools:

Inclusive Language in Forms and Tools

By using inclusive language, staff and caregivers can communicate that it is safe to be open with them about gender identity and sexual orientation. Inclusive language is a powerful way to demonstrate that no assumptions and/or value judgements will be made about a child or youth's identity or the ways they prefer to express their gender.

When staff adopt inclusive language in using child welfare tools, services are likely to be even more responsive to the needs of a child or youth.

Additionally, inclusive language in child welfare forms demonstrates an organization's commitment to inclusion and diversity, communicates to children and youth that they are recognized, and can help make services more responsive to the unique needs of each LGBT2SQ child or youth. For example, wherever gender information is requested, forms should include multiple options, and not only "male" or "female." Forms should also provide an opportunity for individuals to indicate whether the name they go by is different from their legal name. For example, if a legal name is needed, a form can ask for "Legal name" as well as "Chosen name(s)." Language can also be made more inclusive by replacing narrow options such as "mother" and "father" with "parent 1," "parent 2," and "parent 3."

Conducting a review of all forms and tools is an important step to making language inclusive of LGBT2SQ children, youth, and families.

“Placing a blank for a person's gender designation allows an individual to identify their gender identity. The "Other" box can feel like an after-thought and people are made to feel like a freak for not "fitting in" to the other boxes”.
- Youth

RESOURCE: Making forms more inclusive for LGBT2SQ children and youth