Creating a Partnership with Parents and Carers who identify as LGBT in the Early Years. #LGBTHM2020

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This is part one of a 4-part blog which is celebrating the LGBT History Month 2020. It will focus primarily on 4 key aspects with the first one being discussed below.

  1. Creating a Partnership with Partners and Carers who identify as LGBT
  2. Creating a checklist to make sure that you and your setting are welcoming not just for LGBT but Diversity as a whole. Seeing the world through an LGBT Child….
  3. Resources and activities about Family Dynamics – Discussing the term family and how it is structured in 2020
  4. Child Centred approaches, development appropriateness and learning about the world around them.

Today I am focusing on parents and carers. Starting with this approach starts with a concept of strength. Enabling a meaningful partnership between yourself as the professional and the family starts with attitudes and practices that focus on the families strengths. It is important that all families, including those with members who identify as LGBT, have similarities and differences. Like all parents and carers, who identify as LGBT have their own goals, dreams and concerns about their child and more importantly their family.

It is important to get to know your parents and carers who identify as LGBT as recognition of their uniqueness is important. It is important that you ask the same questions you ask other families, but you could also ask some questions which are specific to their family, such as:-

  • “What names does your child call you?” (for example, papa or mama)
  • “How would you like us to refer to you when we speak to your child?”
  • “How would you like us to describe your family to others, children and families etc?”
  • “How would you like me to respond to questions about your family?”

Even though these questions are quite open, it is important that we understand that parents and carers who identify as LGBT will have their own individual preferences about the openness of their family. It is important to recognise that some parents and carers may be quite private. Some parents who identify as LGBT may not feel safe or be comfortable with sharing details about their home life or family relationships. Some parents who identify as LGBT may be “out” in one aspect of their lives but not in others. (The phrase “being out” means a person has openly shared that they self-identify as LGBT.) For example, someone who is “out” to friends and family may not be “out” at work. This means they may not be comfortable with your sharing that they identify as LGBT with others without their permission. When and how to come out is a personal decision and is different for everyone.

Create a welcoming environment for parents/guardians who identify as LGBT
Within your setting, it is important to make every effort to engage with specific opportunities to make your environment welcoming and nurturing for members of the LGBT community.

These are examples, a start to reflect on your setting and how they can make your environment inclusive: –

  1. Make your intake forms, and other forms that need filling in by the family reflects language that is welcoming to all kinds of families – for example, changing the spaces that request the names of ‘father’ or ‘mother’, instead using ‘parent’ or ‘guardian’
  2. Written Communication – address families with such phrases as Dear Parents and Carers or Dear Families
  3. Make diverse images more visible in your setting,

Inclusive Books

Pictures on the wall, Marketing brochures.
Share images of all Kinds of families, including parents who identify as LGBT

4. Put signs or posters on the walls to welcome families and their children. For example, signs could say, “We welcome ALL families and children!” or “ALL families welcome here!” This signals to parents that you are accepting of diversity.

5. Personally invite parents who identify as LGBT to participate in programme activities—especially if you sense they seem uncomfortable With wanting to take part.

Develop a welcoming environment for all families and children
It is important as a practitioner that we listen for and intervene in hurtful or biased comments from children, whether about a child’s family, skin colour, age, gender, or another personal characteristic. It is important that we teach children to speak up for themselves and speak up for others. It is important that we help children feel proud of themselves and their families.

It is, therefore, important that your setting is a safe space where children, families, parents and carers can come to you if they feel hurt or confused about anyone’s comments. This can include children and other adults.

Continuing your professional development around LGBT and learning further about this.

I did a twitter poll last week on how comfortable Early Years Professionals felt when it came to teach about Family Diversity and LGBT. There was a confident approach, but further professional development could be useful.

So here are my 3 points to approach your line manager to ask about learning further about LGBT, the child and the family.

  1. Provide sensitive and cultural awareness training about topics relevant to working with families from the LGBT community. Ensure that certain topics are included in other diversity training, staff development sessions.
  2. Train staff about what they can do when colleagues or parents use derogatory language and/or act in a discriminatory manner toward either staff or parents who identify as LGBT. For example, should they speak up in the moment, or wait and talk in private later? Should they talk with a supervisor about it, or speak directly with the staff member or parent who made the remark?
  3. Budget funds for staff to attend conferences about topics related to working with LGBT-headed families.

Be ready for questions
It is important that as a practitioner you are fully confident to approach any questions that arise. Children are curious, so are many adults too, and want to know about things they see and hear. They may have questions such as “why does Maria have two mums?”. You could say, “She has two moms who love each other and who love and take care of her, just like your grandma takes care of you.”

They might ask, “Where is Isaac’s mom?” (pointing at Isaac’s two dads).” You could say, “Isaac has two dads instead of a mom and a dad. That’s who is in his family. A family can be made up of many different people.” Keep your answers simple and straightforward.

In a group of children, you can invite discussion about different kinds of families and the things that families have in common. Focus on love, relationships, and caregiving. For example, “Let’s talk about who takes care of us at home.”

However, you need to practice addressing discomfort about LGBT in your setting. You need to prepare in advance a response you might want to use if you hear adults saying insensitive things. You could say, “It seems you are uncomfortable with having a family with parents who identify as LGBT in our setting. Our goal is to maintain the dignity and safety of all our children and families.”

The fact here is that you are tackling it. It is important that your manager fosters an environment where you are able to feel comfortable and have the backing of your setting to do this.

Promoting anti-discrimination policies in your Early Years Setting.
Parents or carers may feel more vulnerable in ways that other families may not because of past or current experiences in their own families and communities. While being LGBT may be more visible and accepted in some communities, bias and prejudice still exists.

This can have huge implications; some LGBT parents and carers may withhold information due to fears of discrimination or rejection (especially their child) or fear that their confidentially will be breached by staff members.

Ask yourself; –

  • How accepting is my community of LGBT families?
  • How to address diversity in your mission statements, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity?

Share your settings confidentiality policy with all families and reiterate to them that it exists when they feel conversations may arise. It is important that staff members also feel free to be able to questions, value diversity, discuss values, examine bias and evaluate their attitudes.

You can expand your settings approach to diversity training and coaching to include opportunities for reflection and recognising individual biases, values and beliefs.

  • Support staff in engaging with all families in a respectful and appropriate way
  • Provide opportunities for staff to reflect as individuals, address concerns and questions with supervisors, and share ideas and strategies with peers. This could be done during individual supervision
  • Encourage staff growth by creating a shared agreement about how to discuss challenging topics as a group in a safe and respectful way
  • Create a balance of appropriate training and coaching opportunities to ensure staff have the skills to contribute to an LGBT-welcoming program environment, and to work directly with parents who identify as LGBT
  • Help staff develop skills to handle and be comfortable with experiences that can lead to professional growth.

Explore your own beliefs and practices.
We all have biases, though we may not always want to admit it. Explore your own feelings separately, and when you’re ready, talk with a supervisor or a trusted colleague. Remember that you have the opportunity to join with each family and become their partner in their child’s and family’s development.

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