When we say ‘every child,’ we really mean EVERY.

You don’t have to look very hard to find it. Our mission is front and center on our website: Together, we can make sure every child in Pennsylvania has their best tomorrow.

Every child.

June is LGBTQ Pride, a month-long remembrance of the 1969 Stonewall uprising and celebration of the identity and social impact of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans individuals. Every year, Pride month presents an opportunity for ALL (not just our LGBTQ family) to engage, listen, learn, remember, and yes, throw a really great party.

And this year, we thought Pride month would be the perfect time to talk about some important learning that we at PennCAC have been doing about how we can support every child who comes to our centers because of concerns about abuse.

To help us out with this conversation, we’ve invited Dominick Petitto, MS, NCC, LPC, who works as a Trauma Therapist at one of our member locations, Children’s Advocacy Center of Northeastern Pennsylvania (CAC/NEPA). Dominick (pronouns he/him/they/them) provides CAC/NEPA’s in-house training on LGBTQ inclusion. He is a passionate advocate for LGBTQ rights and visibility, and is proud of the work that the CAC has done to become more welcoming.

Children's Advocacy Center of Northeastern Pennsylvania

As our movement learns and grows together, we wanted to feature CAC/NEPA’s efforts as a great example of how a Children’s Advocacy Center can model inclusivity for LGBTQ+ youth and families. Recently, the CAC partnered with a consultant to assess how the intake process could be streamlined. As a result, the team noticed some room for improvement on forms that collect client information when a child comes to the CAC. “Our intake forms were not very inclusive,” says Dominick, who was invited to help revise the forms to better reflect the CAC’s commitment to making children, youth, and families feel safe and comfortable.

When two choices are too few.
Some of the forms used by Children’s Advocacy Centers—like many other victim service providers—have only two options for a client to identify their gender: male or female. Additionally, there is only space for a legal name, with no easy place for a child to identify the name or pronouns they actually use.
For many people, this doesn’t register as a problem. That’s because cisgender folks (people whose gender assigned at birth and gender identity match) can comfortably check the “male” or “female” box without hesitation. As a result, they often don’t realize that others might be excluded.

As a result of their assessment, the CAC revised its intake form to include an option for children and youth who identify as transgender. They also revised the client information packet that is given to families to be filled out during the appointment, to include the name the child wishes to be known byin case they do not use their legal name.

It isn’t always easy to notice harm when it isn’t harming you.

Having more pronoun and name identification options doesn’t make much difference to cisgender kids. But to trans, non-binary, or gender non-conforming youth who come through CAC doors, it’s a completely different story. “For a trans kid,” Dominick says, “it means the world to have the option to choose a pronoun that actually represents them. The kids who come here to talk about abuse as part of an investigation have battled so much in their lives already. They’ve battled their own questions or conditioning around gender and identity. They’ve come to the CAC to tell their storythat’s also a battle. Why would we make them fight one more battle just to be identified as who they are?”

“For a trans kid, it means the world to have the option to choose a pronoun that actually represents them.”

There’s a much-beloved Maya Angelou quote: When you know better, you do better. With the help of Dominick and others who bring a fresh perspective to established procedures, we can see where and how we could adjust our approach to do better; to be more welcoming and inclusive for every child. How we can adapt our intake forms might sound like such a small thing—but it could make a big difference to kids and improve our trauma-informed support for child victims.

In the months ahead, we want to continue this conversation with CACs across the state. After all, as Dominick reminded us, “These changes aren’t going to make anyone less accepted. Why would we ever object to making more people feel safe?

How we’re trying to do better
Here at PennCAC we’re working to make some of these positive changes and to support our CACs toward becoming more inclusive. You might notice some of the word choices shifting in our communication. Or the deliberate sharing of pronouns, so that every child (and parent, CAC staff member, and professional partner) can be referred to respectfully and correctly. You may find that some of these changes feel new—and like most new things, maybe a little uncomfortable. That’s okay! Dominick suggests that if we feel that discomfort creeping in, we ask ourselves a couple simple questions: why am I uncomfortable? Is it because I don’t understand? And if so, how can I learn more?
When we were planning this blog, we thought about building a case for why these changes are important. We were ready to share statistics on the higher risks of violence and abuse facing LGBTQ kids, ready to make a compelling point for why they needed and deserved these simple changes.
Speaking to Dominick reminded us that we didn’t need all that. Because the reason why these changes matter isn’t about statistics. The most important thing that any Children’s Advocacy Center can be is a place that children can trust. Our centers exist to provide a safe place for child victims to disclose abuse and start the healing journey after trauma.
But for LGBTQ kids, sharing the abuse that happened to them can lead to dehumanizing questions about who they are. “So often, LGBTQ kids’ identity is linked to their trauma. If a trans person has been sexually assaulted, for example, many people will imply or say outright: ‘Oh. That must be why you’re trans—because someone assaulted you.’ It isn’t safe to talk about your trauma if talking about your trauma can be used to undermine your identity. But if we can allow kids to feel that their identity is accepted, reinforced, and understood, then we can address their trauma. This didn’t cause you to be gay. This didn’t cause you to be trans. Who you are is who you are, and this is a bad thing that happened to you. Why would kids feel comfortable talking about their trauma if they can’t talk about who they are? It matters that they know this place is accepting.”
Being a safe, welcoming place doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can be as simple as an LGBTQ sticker on the window. “I have a rainbow flag on my doormat,” shares Dominick. “And the first words some of my clients have said to me are Oh my god, I love your flag.” No funds for a new doormat? “Print out a blank piece of paper and color a rainbow. Something so simple can make a huge difference.”

So, instead of statistics, we want to close with some tips from Dominick for how we can all make our homes, schools, workplaces, CACs—and even something as boring as paperwork—more welcoming and affirming for every child.

Simple Personal Updates

Stretch your vocabulary. There is a beautiful, diverse language of terms that folks use to define their identity—and learning a new language can feel a little overwhelming. PFLAG has assembled a great glossary of LGBTQ-related words and their definitions that you can use as a guide. Whenever you encounter a term you don’t know, see if you can find it here!

Start sharing your pronouns!

Whether it’s on a Zoom call, in your LinkedIn bio, or just in conversation, when you introduce yourself with your pronouns (“Hi, I’m Dominick, and my pronouns are he/him or they/them!”) you open the door for others to share their own.

A great first step—consider adding your pronouns to your email signature, even if you’re cisgender and don’t ever feel like pronouns are a thing you need to clarify. Remember—by including yours, you signal to others that you’d like to know and honor their pronouns. If you’d like to take it a step further, Dominick invites us to include the link they use in their email signature (Why Pronouns Matter) to give everyone you email a chance to learn more on their own time.

Simple Space Updates

In your home, school, or office, put up welcoming stickers, signs, and yes, doormats. Rainbows are a simple way to signal welcome and safety to LGBTQ kids without their ever needing to ask or come out to you. A few bright, visible rainbows in a space might barely register with cisgender kids, but they’ll stand out loudly to the LGBTQ kids who need to know they are safe and seen. Here’s a great poster that explains pronouns and why they matter, created by PA Family Support Alliance in partnership with the LGBT Center of Central PA.

Make educational materials available

At home, make sure kids have access to age-appropriate books and media that center LGBTQ characters and their experience. If your workplace is striving to be more inclusive, remember that change isn’t always easy, and some folks will have questions about inclusive changes being made. Take advantage of the reading folks do in waiting and break rooms, and leave educational materials within sight. That way, the answers to hard questions are easy to find! Here’s a great book for kids that CAC/NEPA recommends.

Simple Form Updates

If you work for an organization or company that uses forms for intake, surveys, or even just email sign-ups, you can be an advocate for positive change! Make room for both a legal name, pronouns, AND the name the person uses. Stay away from the word preferred, which implies that pronouns and names are optional (they’re not). Try:

Legal Name: ___________ Pronouns: _____________ What should I call you? ________

Embrace the blank space. Instead of trying to include every possible option in a list of checkboxes or forcing folks to check “Other,” try offering a simple fill-in-the-blank and letting the person filling out the form define themselves! Gender: _________  —so simple!

Ready to learn more about how to support the LGBTQ kids in your life? Dominick was kind enough to compile a list of resources for us to share with you. Give them a read, a watch, or a listen!

  • PFLAG—For over 40 years, PFLAG has been providing resources to help family members of LGBTQ individuals support their loved ones well.
  • GLBT Near Me—A simple tool to find LGBTQ-friendly, or owned and operated, services in your area. The list includes everything from medical professionals to restaurants, clothing retailers to places of worship.
  • Harbor Camps—A unique summer camp option for kids in the Northeast.
  • For therapists—a way to get involved in driving positive change and LGBTQ equity.

***A word of caution for CAC staff and multidisciplinary team partners: Remember that some kids may not be out (openly identifying as LGBTQ) to family members. Ensure confidentiality! Double check names and pronouns in one-on-one situations. Let them tell you which name/pronouns they want you to use, in which contexts, and follow their lead.***

Dominick Petitto, MS, NCC, LPC. Dominick (he/him/they/them) is a Trauma Therapist at Children’s Advocacy Center of Northeastern Pennsylvania (CAC/NEPA).

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