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CREATING A SAFE SPACE ENVIRONMENT.

THE REPORT, "Supporting Safe and Healthy Schools for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Students," has been released by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in partnership with the American Council for School Social Work (ACSSW), American School Counselor Association (ASCA), and School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA), providing insight into school-based mental health professionals' work to support LGBTQ youth, as well as barriers they face to supporting those youth.

Data from the report was drawn from a national online survey that included school counselors, psychologists, and social workers--in U.S. schools (grades five through 12). Respondents came from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

"This report is of crucial importance, as it adds to our understanding of key school personnel who play a critical day-to-day role in the academic and emotional well-being of our nation's youth, including LGBTQ youth," says Joseph Kosciw, chief strategy and research officer at GLSEN. "Further, it identifies factors that need improvement for school mental health providers to be better able to work with LGBTQ students, such as pre-service education and professional development."

The report indicates that the majority of professionals surveyed hold positive attitudes regarding LGBTQ students and feel they have an important role to play in supporting these individuals. Specifically, 87% believe that it is their responsibility to provide supportive counseling to LGBTQ students and 80% believe that they should not avoid discussion of students' sexual orientation and gender identity.

Further, the report documents that many school mental health professionals work to create safe and welcoming environments for LGBTQ students as a part of their individual practice. For instance, nearly three-fourths report meeting with LGBTQ students over the past year, and nearly half report having a Safe Space sticker or other visual sign of support for LGBTQ students in locations where they meet with them.

"This report reveals a promising picture with regard to how school-based mental health providers work to support LGBTQ students," notes Jill Cook, assistant director of ASCA. 'The fact that they are largely supportive of LGBTQ students, and are actively working to create welcoming spaces for these students, goes a long way toward helping to create safe and inclusive schools for all students in our nation."

Although school counselors, psychologists, and social workers were found to hold positive attitudes towards LGBTQ-related issues in schools and many engaged in supportive practices, the report also found that many do not receive LGBTQ-inclusive graduate education and professional development opportunities. Without this training, they may be left without the critical skills needed to support and advocate for LGBTQ students most effectively. Graduate education and professional development opportunities around working with trans-gender students were found to be particularly lacking.

Seventy percent receive little to no competency training in their graduate programs related to working with LGB populations, while 81% receive little to no competency training in their graduate programs related to working with transgender populations. Moreover, 37% have not received any formal education or training on LGBTQ-specific student issues during their professional careers.

"Improving graduate education curriculum by including more LGBTQ-related content and increasing funding to school districts for professional development activities that include LGBTQ-specific training are two effective ways to ensure school mental health professionals are equipped with the knowledge and the skills to serve LGBTQ students," relates Judith Kullas Shine, past president of ACSSW.

The report identifies a strong need for education and training efforts to include content related to transgender students, as it is an area where school mental health providers receive even less training and feel less confident in their abilities, as compared to content related to LGB students.

Finally, the report offers additional recommendations to build on the strong foundation of providers' support for LGBTQ students, including ensuring school counselors, psychologists, and social workers are aware of the position statements and ethical standards from their professional membership organizations related to LGBTQ youth issues in schools, and having access to self-directed knowledge-building opportunities and easy-to-implement supportive resources, such as GLSEN's Safe Space Kit.

"There are some existing supports out there for school-based mental health providers who want to be welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ students--including the organizations and associations who contributed to this report--and it's critical that social workers, counselors, and psychologists have access to those," stresses Rebecca K. Oliver, executive director of SSWAA.

'This report also serves as a call to action for graduate schools, education policymakers, and school districts to step up and ensure that school mental health professionals are provided the training, support, and funding needed to best support the LGBTQ students with whom they work."

BY SUE YACKA-BIBLE

Sue Yacka-Bible is senior media relations manager for the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, New York.
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Title Annotation:PSYCHOLOGY
Author:Yacka-Bible, Sue
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:May 1, 2019
Words:782
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