Abstract: Perceived Usability and Effectiveness of the Support Systems Ecomap for Lgbtqia+ Youth: A Pilot Study (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Perceived Usability and Effectiveness of the Support Systems Ecomap for Lgbtqia+ Youth: A Pilot Study

Friday, January 13, 2023
Valley of the Sun C, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
June Paul, PhD, Assistant Professor, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY
Background and Purpose: LGBTQIA+ youth may have difficulty accessing the support they need to achieve healthy development and functioning. This is especially true for youth that experience multiple forms of identity-related oppression, such as LGBTQIA+ youth of color and youth that identify as gender minorities. There is also a paucity of strategies designed to understand and evaluate levels of support among these youth. This may result in inadequate and/or inappropriate care and services, and ultimately adverse outcomes in adulthood.

This project evaluates a practice tool called an ecomap that has been adapted and contextualized for working with LGBTQIA+ youth. The tool, known as the Support Systems Ecomap for LGBTQIA+ Youth, offers youth and human service providers the opportunity to identify and reflect on the quality and sources of the youth’s relationships, the resources/services they are receiving, and any unmet support-related needs they may be experiencing. Types of support focus on support tied to the youth’s transition from adolescence to adulthood, and cultural support in relation to their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, and ethnicity. Our aims were to evaluate: (1) whether there are any barriers and/or facilitators to the usability of the tool, (2) the extent to which the ecomapping process encouraged dialogue between providers and LGBTQIA+ youth about the youths’ support systems, and (3) how effective providers and youth perceived the ecomap to be in exploring, assessing, and enriching the support systems of LGBTQIA+ youth.

Methods: Study participants were recruited from human service organizations (HSOs) located in the Capital District of New York that provide programs and services for LGBTQIA+ youth. Participants included paired dyads (20 pairs) consisting of one youth and one provider. Youth participants were aged 16-25 years-old, identified as LGBTQIA+, and were participating in programs or services provided by selected HSOs. Provider participants were currently delivering services to eligible youth participants. Data was gathered using survey, interviewing, and observational methods over a period of 8 months. Survey data were analyzed using factor analysis. Interview and observational data were analyzed using within and across case thematic analysis.

Results: Results indicate that the Support Systems Ecomap for LGBTQIA+ Youth may be an effective strategy for assisting youth in developing/maintaining healthy, supportive relationships; connecting them to resources that are safe, appropriate, and affirming of who they are; and ultimately improving their health and wellbeing. Providers reported that the ecomap helped to facilitate productive dialogue and foster further trust between youth and human service providers by increasing providers’ levels of competence and comfort in discussing identity-related issues with youth. Youth reported that the ecomap empowered them to critically reflect on their own lives by encouraging them to actively explore, identify, and address any resource and relational challenges that arise in their lives.

Conclusions and Implications: This study generates novel insights regarding use of the Support Systems Ecomap for LGBTQIA+ Youth as a potential strategy for exploring and expanding the support networks of LGBTQIA+ youth and may be especially vital for youth that experience multiple forms of identity-related oppression.