Leeds School of Social Sciences

Support for UK parents/carers of primary school aged gender diverse children: a mixed-method analysis of experiences with health services

Research team: Bridgette Rickett, Katherine Johnson, Helen Ingle and Martel Reynolds

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An interdisciplinary team of researchers, led by Dr Bridgette Rickett, Head of Psychology at Leeds Beckett University, utilised a successful bid from the Leeds Beckett University research cluster funding initiative to carry out a pioneering mixed-method study research project to enable an understanding of UK parents/carers’ views and experiences of support received for primary school age (4-11) children. The team specifically focussed on parent/ carer and families of primary aged gender diverse children whose gender expressions do not conform to socially expected gender norms

The politics of trans health has drawn considerable media attention in recent years, and yet we still know very little about the support needs and experiences of primary school age, gender diverse children and their families. Following this need for academic understanding, the first stage of this research project set out to collect data via an e-survey with 75 UK based parents/carers. This allowed the team to capture parent/carer experiences with  primary health services, including general practice (GP) clinics and child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), specialist gender identity development services (GIDS) and non-health related support including transgender groups and online resources.

The findings from detailed quantitative and qualitative analysis of the data from this survey was organised around four themes. First, two themes were derived from numerical questionnaire data that allowed the team to map out the journeys the families took to health service provision and their overall views on the health services used.

In addition, thematic analysis on the large open-text qualitative data set from the e-survey revealed two more themes. From this data, the research team found that parents and carers experience very much centred on continued ‘waiting’, both to see how the child’s gender identities developed as they got older and waiting for access to services once they reached out for support. In addition, parents and carers also shared feelings and experiences of profound isolation during these journeys.

In sum, parents reported a desire for better information, the need for more certainty in healthcare pathways and more expedient access to support services to reduce anxiety, distress, and isolation.  In addition, data showed that the emotional costs of waiting were compounded by the material costs of accessing the limited number of specialist services meaning that some families on low incomes faced considerable barriers to accessing these services.

This first stage of research concluded that support for UK parents/carers of primary school aged gender diverse children could be improved through ensuring both GPs and CAMHS are better prepared through appropriate training, by expanding access to trans-specific support groups for families and others involved in caring for children and young people, and exploring the provision of local, socially inclusive school-based support for gender diverse primary-age children.

Read full details of research findings

Dr Bridgette Rickett

Head of Subject / Leeds School Of Social Sciences

Bridgette is Head of Psychology in the Leeds School of Social Sciences here at Leeds Beckett and the current Chair of Athena Swan Self Assessment Sub-Panel for the School.

Bridgette has also been the Chair of the Psychology of Women Section (British Psychology Society), is currently a committee member of the Association of Heads of Psychology and is leading the British Psychology Society position paper on the psychological evidence for in inclusion of social class/inequities as a protected characteristic in a revised UK Equality Act.

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