Group home for LGBTQ youth to open soon in Red Deer

A Red Deer organization believes the group home it's close to opening will be the first in the country specifically for LGBTQ youth in government care.

New program for LGBTQ kids in care believed to be first of its kind in Canada

Shay Vanderschaeghe says she thinks the Haven group home for LGBTQ youth will be the first of its kind in Canada. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

A group home for Alberta kids in care who identify as LGBTQ could open by the end of the month in Red Deer.

Heritage Family Services, the organization that will operate the home, said it thinks this will be the first of its kind in the country.

Over the years, a range of youth who have come into contact with the agency have asked for exactly this kind of approach, said program co-ordinator Shay Vanderschaeghe.

"We had two transgender youth in our assessment centre and we couldn't find any great awesome space for them," she said.

It's somewhat surprising the Haven group home will be the first, she said, given estimates that suggest LGBTQ kids make up at least 25 per cent of those in care.

'Good for Alberta'

Vanderschaeghe said the percentages are high because many families don't accept kids who come out as LGBTQ.
Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff says he's pleased to hear an agency will be opening a group home for LGBTQ youth. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Last month, Alberta's Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff unveiled a special report that found many gender diverse children don't feel accepted or supported in the child welfare system.

Graff said he was pleased to hear about the new group home.

"It absolutely makes a difference," Graff said. "Young people need to know that they are accepted for who they are. I just think it's a tremendously positive development. It's one that's good for Alberta, and certainly good for the young people."  

Home will start small

Initially the program, run out of a residential home in Red Deer, will open with three beds and eight permanent staff, including some from the LGBTQ community.

The plan is to start small to help staff learn what works best, before creating spaces for more kids, Vanderschaeghe said.

Programming needs will be driven by the youth as part of the organization's overall vision.

Caseworkers can apply for the program on behalf of clients aged 12 to 18.

"We want to be able to provide a safe loving home for them as they are in this place of transition," Vanderschaeghe said.

In addition to family stresses, there can be added anxiety for LGBTQ kids who can face bullying in traditional group homes.

Lucas Gagnon has never been in care. But the transgender man said he can relate to the challenges faced by youth who will live in the group home.

His Red Deer group, the Trans and Non-Binary Aid Society, has been working in an advisory role with the Haven group home.    

Government working on licensing approval

"It's a long time coming," said Gagnon, who has faced violence and bigotry himself. "Knowing that there is going to be a safe place for gender diverse youth just means so much."

Renovations are currently being finished to get the home ready. After that, Heritage Family Services will go through the licensing process with Alberta Child and Family Services.

Vanderschaeghe said she hopes the upgrades and approvals will happen in time for the group home to open on Dec 22.