Abstract: Queer Kinship: Expanding Notions of Family, Support, and Care for Sexual and Gender Minority Youth in Foster Care (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Queer Kinship: Expanding Notions of Family, Support, and Care for Sexual and Gender Minority Youth in Foster Care

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Kathryn Berringer, Doctoral Student, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Background: Both anthropological studies of kinship and scholarship on queer theory argue against notions of kinship based solely, or even primarily, on biology (Freeman, 2008; Sahlins, 2013). In both fields, studies of chosen, adoptive, and otherwise non-biological kinship relations among SGM people abound (Borneman, 1997; Brainer, 2019; Weston, 1997) and contribute to social scientific and anthropological understandings of family, belonging, and care across contexts. At the same time, comparatively little has been written on the unique kinship systems of SGMY of color in the United States, including those in the house-ballroom community (Bailey, 2013; Rivera Colón, 2009). Even less explores the complex kinship arrangements – chosen, biological, foster, and adoptive – of SGMY of color involved in the child welfare system. This presentation draws on ethnographic data from SGMY of color and social work practitioners in metropolitan Detroit to examine the theoretical and practical contributions attention to these complex kinship arrangements might offer to social work research and practice.

Methods: Grounded in twelve months of ethnographic research at an LGBTQ youth center providing social and medical services in metropolitan Detroit, this study utilized extensive participant-observation in organizational activities – including staff meetings, program planning and development, program evaluation, and service provision – as well as semi-structured interviews with key staff, youth advisory board members and youth peer leaders, agency directors, and community partners.

Results: This presentation compiles and analyzes data from participant-observation of social work interventions tailored for SGMY in foster care, as well as interviews with staff and peer youth leaders involved in this programming. Results from this data include: (1) analysis of critiques youth articulate of limited notions of kinship and care in professional social service settings; (2) discussions of possibilities for expanding notions of kinship to include gay families and chosen kin in social service provision (e.g. incorporating chosen families into family finding interventions); and (3) analysis of the ways idioms of queer kinship might be incorporated into organizational practices at agencies serving LGBTQ youth.

Conclusion & Implications: This presentation explores the limits, consequences, and possibilities of examining and expanding notions of kinship, belonging, and care in work with SGMY involved in the child welfare system. The questions this research poses have the potential to inform social work practice with queer and trans youth across a wide range of clinical and organizational settings. This analysis also has the potential to contribute theoretically to social scientific and anthropological understandings of kinship and belonging in care settings.