Live through this : the experiences of queer youth in care in Manitoba

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Dame, Linda
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In June of 2001 I began a position with the province of Manitoba as a social worker for children and youth permanently in care. Up until that time I had worked in the child social services field for several years but I had not worked as a mandated child protection worker. During my career I had seen, experienced, and heard of systemic homophobia within child social services, but my first day on the job as a social worker began my exposure to just how ingrained those systemic abuses and discriminatory practices really are. On the first day of my employment I had a meeting about my caseload wiih my direct supervisor from northern Manitoba and another supervisor from the Winnipeg office I would work in. When discussion turned to one particular fifteen year old I was informed that he was the most difficult child my entire office had ever experienced and very easily the most difficult child in the system period. The "problems" of this teen were never clear to me that first day and I was told that I would understand more when I met him. With my prodding I was told that this teen liked to "act out" by dressing "provocatively" and "inappropriately" and he regularly used this "negative attention-getting behaviour" to escalate staff in his home. Having worked in the Winnipeg group home system for years I had a good idea of what was considered provocative dress within youth culture and I felt unperturbed by it. I was soon to discover, from my perspective, that nothing that I was told regarding this youth was either accurate or fair. The first time I met this teen was at the Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU), where he had been admitted for his own "safety"... To me, queer youth in care is not a topic, it is a cause. They may be an invisible population but they have a lot to say and considering that queer youth have up to three times the suicide rate of heterosexual youth (Morano and Cisler, 1993), I think it is time we listened. My work will help this area in several important ways: 1. it is providing a base of information in an area that is lacking, 2. it is highlighting the oppressive social structures that are contributing to the lack of study in this area, 3. it can be applied practically for social work practice and policy changes that will benefit queer youth, 4. it can be used within social work curriculum to illustrate the unique challenges queer youth in care face, 5. and this study can serve as support for other social action groups who are working towards equality for sexual minorities in any number of different areas.