Human Services for Low-Income and At-Risk LGBT Populations

Review Identifies Knowledge Base and Areas for Future Research
Mar 03, 2015

Despite social and legal progress for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the United States, much about low-income and at-risk LGBT individuals and their participation in federal human service programs remains unknown. In fact, data suggest LGBT people may be disproportionately at risk of poor outcomes related to economic security and social well-being, compared to the general population.

To address this knowledge gap, Mathematica, in partnership with the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, conducted an assessment for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation. The project aimed to help identify the current knowledge base and priorities for future research and, ultimately, strengthen services for low-income and at-risk LGBT people.

report and related issue brief look at LGBT populations' characteristics and interactions with human services and identify data gaps. The project focused on (1) income support and self-sufficiency programs for low-income families, (2) child welfare programs, and (3) programs for youth—especially services funded by ACF (assistance for runaway and homeless youth, and sexual health education for adolescents). Three additional briefs delve into recommendations for future research in these focus areas.

"Our review suggests that LGBT people could benefit from improvements to social services, such as increasing providers' familiarity with the circumstances and experiences of LGBT people. We found, however, there is a need for more research to better understand the risks that LGBT people face, whether they encounter barriers in accessing services, and the kinds of interventions that may be effective for them," explained  Andrew Burwick, senior researcher at Mathematica and project director.

"We used a variety of methods to conduct the assessment," added Dr. Gary Gates, Blachford-Cooper distinguished scholar and research director, Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law. "We developed an annotated bibliography on LGBT populations and human services, consulted with an expert panel and representatives of ACF program offices, conducted secondary data analyses, completed case studies of providers serving runaway and homeless LGBT youth, and conducted telephone interviews with staff at state and community agencies providing various types of human services to LGBT people."

Overall, the project identified the following key areas for further research:

• Developing sources of population-based and administrative data that include measures of sexual orientation and gender identity
• Continuing to explore the nature of risk and protective factors among LGBT people, notably subpopulations, especially transgender people and people of color
• Understanding potential barriers to service access
• Identifying and documenting efforts to improve human service delivery to LGBT populations
• Evaluating the effectiveness of human service interventions targeting LGBT populations

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