The following joint statement by the Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE-ACFTS) and the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) clarifies our position on issues of social work education and social service provision with respect to gender diverse children and youth.
Gender diverse young people are those who express or identify their gender in ways that are outside of mainstream societal expectations. These young people may also be known as gender non-conforming, gender independent, gender creative or transgender. Within Aboriginal communities, gender diverse young people may use the term two-spirit, or one of many pre-existing nation-specific terms expressing an experience of gender outside of European concepts of sex and gender.
In Canada, there has been a history of pathologizing research and treatment conducted on gender diverse children.1 In keeping with emerging research and informed practices, the following principles reflect the joint position on how social work practitioners, researchers and educators should respond to gender diverse youth.
- Gender diversity must be respected as an expression of human diversity.
- Gender diverse young people are to be affirmed as the gender they understand themselves to be, as consistent with Values 1 and 2 of the CASW “Code of Ethics”2 (1. Respect for the inherent dignity and worth of persons, and 2. Pursuit of social justice), and consistent with Principle 9 of the CASWE-ACFTS Standards for Accreditation (Standards encourage and support diversity and social justice in all aspects/domains of social work programs).3
- Respected roles for gender diverse people existed in many First Nations communities prior to colonization.4 Social workers should support Indigenous allies in reasserting traditional knowledge with respect to gender diversity.
- Restrictive gender roles are a reflection of sexist, racist, heteronormative and cisnormative5 assumptions, and are harmful for all people regardless of gender identity. Social workers should engage in ongoing learning to recognize and eliminate these assumptions in the profession.
- Gender identity is a core aspect of the self. Any professional’s attempt to alter the gender identity or expression of a young person to align with social norms is considered unethical and an abuse of power and authority.6 Specifically, social workers should reject any attempt to prevent a child from growing up to be transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, gay, lesbian, bisexual or queer.
- Research demonstrates that family support for youth’s self-identified gender and/or gender expression is key to a young person’s wellbeing.7, 8 Social work practitioners will work with families in culturally sensitive ways to foster affirmation as an aspect of healthy parenting and should try to ensure that adoptive, foster or group home placements offer an environment that affirms gender diversity.
- Social workers should advocate within their profession, with other professionals, and within the broader society to ensure gender diverse young people receive affirmation in all aspects of their lives. Social workers will work with medical practitioners as needed to respond to young people’s requests for medical treatment to suppress puberty and/or to transition to a new gender.
- Social work educators will promote course content regarding effective practices for supporting gender diverse communities as per Sections 3 and 4 of the CASWE-ACFTS Standards for Accreditation3 (Promote human rights and social justice, and Support and Enhance diversity by addressing structural sources of inequity). Social work researchers will support the self-determination of gender diverse people.
- The social work profession should incorporate the principles of this position statement, with regard to gender diverse children and youth, in accreditation standards, ethics and standards of practice for the discipline.
For more information contact:
1. For example see: Zucker, K. & Bradley, S. (1995). Gender Identity Disorder and psychosexual problems in children and adolescents. New York: The Guilford Press.
2. CASW-ACTS. (2005). Code of Ethics. Retrieved from: http://www.casw-acts.ca/en/what-social-work/casw-code-ethics
3. CASWE-ACFTS Standards of Accreditation. Retrieved from: http://caswe-acfts.ca/commission-on-accreditation/
4. Jacobs, S.E., Thomas, W. & Lang, S. (1997). Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality. University of Illinois Press.
5. Cisnormativity refers to the belief that all people are or should be cisgender people (i.e., not transgender or transsexual).
6. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) states that: “Treatment aimed at trying to change a person’s gender identity or lived gender expression … is no longer considered ethical” (p.2). WPATH (2011). Standards of care: For the health of transsexual, transgender and gender non-conforming people. 7th edition. World Professional Association for Transgender Health.
7. Travers, R., Bauer, G., Pyne, J., Bradley, K., Gale, L., & Papadimitriou, M. (2012). Impacts of strong parental support for trans youth: A report prepared for Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and Delisle Youth Services. Retrieved from: http://transpulseproject.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Impacts-of-Strong...
8. Ryan, C., Russell, S., Huebner, D., Diaz, R., & Sanchez, J. (2010). Family acceptance in adolescence and the health of LGBT young adults. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 23(4), 205–213.