family trans youth

Pride in Our Youth Work

At Gendered Intelligence, we are proud of our youth work service. We want to take the opportunity to go further in detailing our practices; we feel it important to delve into and offer more information about the age ranges and safeguarding procedures for the people our youth work service supports.

Gendered Intelligence is a charity that aims to improve the lives of trans people in the UK — we specialise in supporting young trans people aged 8-25. Youth work widely has a long and proud history of supporting children and teenagers in their lives as they are, and also in their journey to becoming young adults.

“My daughter and I attended the under 12’s group. This was led by professional and very lovely youth workers who went out of their way to make my daughter feel safe and welcome. The children remained hearing distance from their parents and carers at all times – I know this because they had to ask me to be quiet (the shame).

My daughter had a new lease of life after the first session and I’ve rarely seen her so relaxed and comfortable in her own skin. We can’t wait for sessions to resume. Thanks to all at GI for creating safe happy spaces for children like mine. “

A parent of one of our users

Since 2018 we have also been running a peer-led 18-30 group for young trans and gender questioning adults to meet together and find mutual support, strength and friendship.

We have noticed over the years that for young trans and gender questioning people, the journey of self-realisation can start later than ‘teenage-hood’, extending into early 20s. The need for support at this stage— from responsible and trusted adults and organisations — is vital.  

Occasionally, across our calendar of events, we have some sessions where we invite children, teenagers and young adults who are members of our groups to attend the same event.

For instance, our Imagining Our Futures sessions offer much-needed information about career and future family opportunities, information which is sorely lacking for these young people. We open these events up to parents, carers and family members as well as our wider age range and more staff. This creates more of a ‘community day’ feel than a youth group, with parents and carers being in the same space as their children and our youth workers and the session.

Our Context

We have been working with transgender and gender-questioning young people for over a decade; around 500 young people attend our youth groups every year. We provide a supportive environment where young people can meet others in a similar situation.

“When my son was 8, we started going to GI, as he was bullied in school for who he was. He needed to hear from and play with like-minded children, who would take him as he is. The first time we came to the youth group, we were welcomed with open arms.

GI is such a wonderful community and an actual, bully free, safe space for my child. He made some incredible friends as well. GI gave him the confidence to be him, unreservedly and unapologetically and they have given me the confidence I needed to be a spokesperson for my child, until he is old enough to tackle society’s pressures himself. “

All our youth work takes place in the context of well-established youth work practice in the UK. We are endorsed by UK Youth, London Youth and the Youth and Community Department at Ruskin College, Oxford , a leading provider of youth work qualifications, as well as by many other senior youth work practitioners and organisations around the UK. There are existing guidelines and frameworks which shape the work of thousands of youth groups across the country, including residential youth trips for mixed age ranges. We are no exception to this framework.

We often find, however, that we attract negative attention because we are trans-identified professionals and work with young trans and gender diverse young people. We welcome criticism or reflections where it may offer us the ability to further improve our youth work practice, but undue criticism on the trans youth work practice existing in and of itself is an obvious outcome of a transphobic mind. Hyper-focus on our professionals — who go above and beyond for the young people entrusted in their care — simply for their identities is callous.

This callousness is met instead with thanks from users and their parents, with one parent telling us:  

“I just wanted to thank you all as an organisation for everything you do. I know that you are such a supportive organisation, and honestly the whole of GI feels more like a family to me.

You’ve saved and changed lives, and I just wanted to drop you an email to say thank you so much for that, and I’m so grateful for it.”

Our Practices

Our work is funded by a range of well-respected grant-giving foundations, including Children in Need, the Blagrave Trust, the Lottery, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Comic Relief, Trust for London and City Bridge Trust, to name a few. Application processes are as thorough for us as for any other organisation.

All funders ask to see our safeguarding and child protection policies and on occasion, asked us to adapt them to include something specific. For example, Children in Need grants officers asked us to develop an e-safety policy, which was gladly produced and approved.

We welcome interrogation and questioning related to our safeguarding processes and practices and have a positive attitude to continual learning.

As with all charities Gendered Intelligence is governed by a Board of Trustees, who have responsibilities to ensure safeguarding is taken seriously and carried out effectively in the organisation. We adhere to the rules of, and are regulated by, the Charity Commission, which includes compliance of safeguarding.    

About Our Practices

At GI, we have been running split age youth groups as part of our services and we believe that those seeking to discredit our work are not representing the facts of our age splits in our work.

For clarity – our youth groups are split by age as follows:

  • 8-11 year olds group (with 7 year olds allowed to stay if their parent/carer stays at the parent group in the same building) in London
  • 11-15 year olds group in London
  • 16 – 20 year olds group in London
  • 13 – 20 year olds groups in Leeds and Bristol
  • 13 – 25 year olds group for our Black, Asian and other minority ethnicities  group in London
  • 11 – 25 year olds group for our Community Saturday, with increased staffing, parents and carers group running alongside and siblings in the same age range welcome to join in.
  • 18-30 year olds peer led group

As stated, on occasion we carry out activities with wider age ranges, including our Youth Board, Swimming, Pride trips, Imagine our Futures season.

On these occasions, the space is staffed with more youth workers and trained volunteers than usual and have strict policies and rules around how the attendees share the space. This includes: no 1:1 areas, facilitated discussions, and toilets separated by over- and under-18. Our workers are briefed in detail about supporting all ages to share and be in the space and all young people are supervised at all times by at least two workers. With the coronavirus crisis meaning our youth work sessions are now online, we felt the immediate need to put strict safeguards into place around our online work. When we host these groups, our young person attendees are not given the option to message each other 1:1 (only publicly to the entire group, or to the Youth Worker hosts). There is no way in our online spaces for young people to privately message each other; therefore there is no possibility for sharing of details. Entry into these groups is vetted through our usual Youth Work procedures. Our workers are briefed in detail about supporting all ages to share and be in the space and all young people are supervised at all times by at least two workers.

All young people under the age of 16 have parental/carer consent to attend our sessions. We communicate regularly with parents and carers over all matters concerning their young people who attend our services.

Our residentials every summer have 18 youth workers to 36 young people, which is a ratio of 1:2. Young people are divided into the following age categories for sleeping: 11-13; 14-15; 16-17 and 18+.  As you might expect, we have a ban on any kind of sexual behaviour and the consumption of alcohol on our residentials. 

Our swimming group and residentials have strict rules and regulations that the workers and young people understand. Changing rooms and sleeping areas are split into various age ranges to keep young people separated according to existing national laws. These age ranges are as follows: under 16s, 16-17s & 18+ spaces.

We always require that young people under the age of 18 have consent from a parent/legal guardian in order to take part in our swimming group or overnight projects. Before we go away or go swimming, we invite young people’s parents/carers to a meeting so they can listen to our project plans in full, ask questions and meet the team of workers as well as the other young people. For our swimming, parents and carers are invited to drop their young people off and talk to workers at that point.

Our safeguarding qualifications 

We have a robust safeguarding policy in place which applies to everyone who works with young people, including volunteers. 

Our Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSL) are Dr. Catherine McNamara who works on the Board. Finn Greig, the Head of our Youth Service is also a qualified DSL 

Finn Greig has a First Class Hons Level 6 Youth and Community Work BA, 15 years’ youth work experience and Level 3 Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) status.

Dr Catherine McNamara has carried out the following training:

  • Child Protection Training, Designated Safeguarding Lead update training, NSPCC, 2017, 2019
  • Organisational development coaching, Institute of Group Analysis, 2016
  • The Prevent Agenda, MASHEIN, 2016
  • WRAP (Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent), Harrow Council, 2016
  • Child Protection Training UK, Safeguarding Children level 3 (Designated Safeguarding Lead), 2015

The deputy to our youth service and residential programme lead, Jake Kelly, also works as a LGBT specialist support worker at Portsmouth City Council as part of the Early Help and Prevention team and runs the PCC’s LGBT Youth Group. In addition to this, he has 10 years’ youth work experience, a level 3 Youth and Community Work qualification, a Masters in Applied Theatre and 6 years’ experience working in various school settings, including Head of Inclusion at a large secondary school in Hampshire.   

In terms of external review or contributions on specific issues, our work is informed by safeguarding and child protection expert Ann Marie Christian. Ann Marie helps schools, organisations, charities, churches and childcare settings to implement their statutory duty and responsibility in keeping children safe. She set up Child 1st Consultancy Limited in 2010 after working for a local authority in frontline child protection since 1996. She works in partnership with colleagues in various settings and supports them in offering bespoke intense support via training and consultancy.

We do not require our youth workers or mentors to have qualifications around psychotherapy, but some of them do. Indeed, some are therapists or counsellors in other aspects of their professional lives. They all have at least a level 2 or level 3 qualification in Youth and Community work, or are working towards them. The youth workers are also situated in a growing interdisciplinary team in the Youth and Communities Services, where we also carry out therapeutic practices.

Misdirected influences

Recently, we have noted an increase in members of the public saying that they have “safeguarding concerns” about Gendered Intelligence. This is not to mean there are any genuine areas of concern with our policies and practices, but as a way of suggesting that where trans adults carry out youth work with young people, there must be a nefarious aim. Thankfully, simply saying “safeguarding concern!” repeatedly and loudly will not bring one into actual existence: we are proud that our safeguarding policies are commendable and watertight.

We find that the assertion that our policies are unsuitable to be a mendacious one, often made in bad faith by people who would like our unique and necessary youth work programmes to no longer exist. It is unfortunate that these accusations mean we have to redirect our energies to protect our young people from even more loud voices. We would much rather use our limited resources to support our users to flourish as individuals. If there is a silver lining, it is that insidious and transphobic invective directed at us stands to strengthen the case that there is an acute need for Gendered Intelligence’s youth work output.

Safe spaces and working with young trans people

You may be aware that trans, non-binary and gender diverse children and young people face significant barriers to living the safe and care-free life that young people deserve. They face bullying and harassment at school or college, in public life and sometimes at home too. This often leads to poor mental health and low self-confidence. 

According to research by Stonewall, almost two thirds of trans pupils are bullied for being trans at school. Whilst we at Gendered Intelligence cannot confirm these exact figures with great certainty, we know from the young people who attend our services that anti-trans bullying is both prolific and rife.

However, with the right support, young trans people can flourish. 

Our support of young people sits within an established and recognised youth work practice framework. Through our youth work, we support young people to: improve their social networks and reduce isolation; achieve a sense of self-empowerment; increase confidence and build resilience. 

When young people come to our youth groups, they find recognition, understanding and validation. They leave feeling seen, with new friends and a sense of pride.

We recently asked a young transgender person, aged 9, what made him proud about being part of our 8-11 youth group. He said: “It feels like I’m part of something, a bunch of special people. Before I felt like I was nothing.” Our youth work practice exists so no child feels themselves to be “nothing”.

Creating a safe space for young people who identify as trans or are questioning their gender identity is at the core of our youth work.

bodily autonomy equal marriage family LGBT Northern Ireland policy

A huge leap for equality in Northern Ireland

Gendered Intelligence’s Policy lead, Cara English, grew up in Belfast, and reflects on what news laws on equal marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland mean to her and other LGBTQ people.

Time for Equality
Image from the Love Equality NI campaign

On the 21st October, the political parties in Northern Ireland failed to restart the Assembly (our devolved parliament), allowing for a cross-party Westminster bill on equal marriage and legalised abortion to come into place.

Despite certain Northern Ireland Assembly members’ last minute effort to sit in session and have the law fall at its final hurdle, the power-sharing agreement that is the bedrock of NI politics meant that – with Sinn Fein unwilling to act against its ostensible human rights agenda – Northern Ireland will soon have equal marriage and bodily autonomy laws.

This has been a very long time coming and as such it has been strangely difficult to navigate the apprehension and the jubilation. I decided to go home to celebrate, as I’d missed the chance to do so when the Republic of Ireland voted to equalise the law in 2015. When you grow up a little pudgy, working class child from the third most deprived constituency in the UK, you’re not expected to want for much. But the people of Northern Ireland wanted more, fought for more and got more.

As the countdown clock ticked down in Belfast’s gay village (more of a hamlet, really), everything felt electric, the start of something new. Apart from a flying, one-day visit, I hadn’t been home in years and wasn’t prepared for how much the city, and myself, had changed. North Belfast is a tough place to grow up as a queer person, so it seemed like a natural step for me to get out as soon as I could. But standing in the bar as the drag queen started shouting “ten! nine! ei—“, I felt a deep sense of awe at all of my queer siblings who had stayed, who had fought for a better Northern Ireland just by existing openly in a way I felt I couldn’t have. It makes me proud of the amazing organisations doing good work in Northern Ireland, such as Cara-FriendSAIL and our friends at TransgenderNI.

Now we will legally have equal marriage for same-sex couples and some of the least restrictive rights around bodily autonomy in Europe. This isn’t just a massive win for lesbian, bisexual, gay and queer people, but a win for women and others who can get pregnant which would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago.

Northern Ireland may still not have anything approaching the legal protections afforded to trans Britons under the Equality Act 2010, but we’re taking huge forward leaps. To the tireless campaigners who refused to kowtow to the push against their right to equality and to bodily autonomy, Gendered Intelligence stands in solidarity with you and wants to say – go raibh maith agat, thenks, thank you.