Ask the Experts: Supporting LGBT young people

Our expert panel offers advice on provision for young gay people, dangerous internet crazes, workforce motivation and SEN reforms.

Question: I have noticed a significant number of young people using our mainstream youth services are struggling with their sexual orientation. There is no local provision for young gay people. How do we best support them?

Jeanie Lynch: Mainstream youth support services with clear equality and diversity policies should be inclusive to all, and staff and volunteers should be trained to ensure that happens.

Suggest running a focus group for the young people you mention to bring them together and find out what would best help them. It may be a specific group for young lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people is needed, or more specialist one-to-one work.

Many areas have LGBT youth support groups that combine generic youth provision such as excursions and club nights with specific information, advice and support around sexuality. One youth service I know has a group for both young LGBT people and their straight friends, which works really well.

All this needn't cost much - it's about using existing resources to ensure this group of young people's needs are met. Sources of advice include Stonewall or Mermaids.

Jeanie Lynch works for Barnardo's and has 25 years' experience of working with vulnerable children and families

Question: Young people at our youth club were discussing the death of a young man as a result of the Punch4Punch internet craze. We were shocked to find most of this group of 13- to 15-year-olds had watched this and similar dangerous games on the internet. How do we convince them not to get involved?

Tracie Trimmer-Platman: Punch4Punch - where two people swap punches until one passes out - is awful and completely pointless. However, young people can become obsessed with things we think are ridiculous - irrespective of the danger involved. Encourage your members to see this and similar risky "games" as a waste of time.

As an alternative, get them to develop their own viral game or activity that showcases their sense of humour, skills and interests. You could monitor the content, but they could maintain it themselves. It could be a positive platform for them to share ideas and create a network of support and interaction not just in the UK but across the world.

Tracie Trimmer-Platman is senior lecturer in youth and community work at the University of East London

Question: How do I inspire and motivate my workforce when 40 per cent of the social workers in my department are locums, staff turnover is high and we're struggling to recruit?

Peter Lewis: It sometimes feels like the good old days of less than 10 per cent locum staff will never return. That might be true. More than 25 per cent feels like "business as usual" in a lot of places.

Visible leadership - seeing the director of children's services, lead member and chief executive - around the office can make a huge difference.

Social care is a tough job. But the vast majority of our social workers are professional, committed and hard-working. They come to work every day aiming to make a difference in the life of a child while knowing they face difficult decisions, relentless scrutiny and sharp criticism from the courts.

Talk to frontline staff about the challenges they face and listen to their concerns and ideas for improvements. If you establish a reputation as a service that values staff, recruitment will become easier.

Peter Lewis is a freelance providing interim local authority children's services leadership, and a former DCS in Haringey

Question: How do I ensure my nursery complies with changes to the Special Educational Needs code of practice?

June O'Sullivan: Changes will come into force from September. The new document has 281 pages but is divided into sections. Section 5 covers early years, so begin by reading this, then review your current policy and procedures to make sure you are compliant.

Check your SEN co-ordinator (Senco) meets the new criteria for the position and make sure your two-year-old progress checks and the way you involve parents in these are in line with new guidance.

The new code is based on the principle of early intervention, so support your staff to become confident at identifying children's emerging additional needs.

Find out how to access funding to help pay for staff training. Councils have a new fund to support services to meet the requirements of the legislation. Useful sources include the Communication Trust (, National Day Nurseries Association ( and Department for Education (

June O'Sullivan is chief executive of the childcare charity and social enterprise, the London Early Years Foundation

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