TURLOCK — How supportive families can make a difference in the lives and well-beings of gay youth will be discussed at a social work conference Friday at California State University, Stanislaus.
The university will hold the event to help train social workers and educate families to prevent prevent suicide and other risks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning youth.
This year, the annual training workshop, which is sponsored by the Department of Social Work and National Association of Social Workers Central Valley Unit, will focus on the "critical role of families in preventing suicide and other risks and promoting well-being for LGBT youth." The conference will be led by Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University.
Founded in 2002, the Family Acceptance Project has done extensive studies across California, and in the valley, on how family behavior in ethnically and religiously diverse communities affects lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.
Ryan's research has led her to develop a family-based approach working with LGBT youth. The project has created family education booklets in English, Spanish and Chinese to help parents understand and support their gay children.
"One of the things that hadn't been done before (our studies) was to show families the way they respond to their LGBT children relates to their children's mental health and well-being," Ryan said. "So then what is very exciting is we can also help prevent multiple negative outcomes by taking a family-based approach."
She said the likelihood of suicide, depression, substance abuse and other at-risk behaviors increases when youth face rejection and aren't supported at home.
Ryan said the all-day conference is open to the public. Most of the close to 200 registrants are social workers, service providers or students. But family members and religious leaders are welcome.
Ryan, who is a clinical social worker with more than 40 years working on mental-health issues in the LGBT community, has held similar training across the country and in Mexico and China. She said the training could be particularly helpful in the valley, which has a larger ethnic and religious population base and tends to be more conservative.
"Cultural background has a big impact on how (families) respond to their LGBT children," Ryan said. "Historically, many people felt they had to choose either their child or their faith. But we see religion as a strength and want to build on that. We see every family as a potential ally."
This will be Ryan's first training at CSU, Stanislaus, but she has done workshops at The PLACE, a Modesto support group for LGBT youth and their parents, and and the local chapter of PFLAG, Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
"We can help keep families together," Ryan said. "We know parents want their children to have a good life and be happy and healthy. And this approach is a way to help them do that in all kinds of settings."
The conference will be from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the CSU, Stanislaus, Event Center. Registration is $55 general admission, $25 for students and continuing education credits. For information, call (209) 667-3091.