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LGBTQ Policy Journal

Topic / Gender, Race and Identity

The Whole Youth Model: How Collecting Data About Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression (SOGIE) Helps Probation and Youth Courts Build More Authentic Relationships Focused on Improved Well-Being

As reform efforts continue to encourage the juvenile justice system to shift its focus from punishment and surveillance to health and well-being, systems must engage in practices that acknowledge and affirm young people in their care as “whole youth” with multiple layers of identity, including sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE). These identities are often excluded from discussions aimed at improving support for youth in and out of care. This guide presents justice systems with a blueprint for collecting SOGIE data, as well as a tool to treat all youth respectfully and support their overall well-being.


Over the last 20 years, advocates and policymakers have successfully decreased the number of youth in the juvenile justice system by at least half through a series of concerted efforts at the federal, state, and local levels. Since 1997, the national rate has dropped 61 percent.[1] These efforts have yielded changes to the juvenile justice system, such as increasing the rights of detained youth and reducing detention; in some parts of the country, juvenile detention facilities are operating at approximately half capacity.[2]

Connecticut, for example, experienced the largest decrease in youth detention, with an 83 percent drop.

The decrease has been so dramatic in California that the California Department of Juvenile Justice is being moved from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to a new department under the Health and Human Services Agency.[3] Agencies are closing secure facilities and moving agency functions to health departments. Los Angeles County is considering the possibility of moving its entire youth probation department under a health department.[4] And San Francisco is closing their youth detention center.[5]

Despite these huge gains, reform efforts have not benefited youth equitably. Despite overall declines in the number of detained youth, youth of color, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning, gender nonconforming, and transgender (LGBQ/GNCT) youth are significantly overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. Further, those detained face increased risks of assault, abuse, and harassment.[6],[7] LGBT and gender nonconforming youth in particular were named a “priority population” in the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Standards to mitigate this group’s documented heightened risk of abuse in facilities of confinement.

To better understand trends and changes over time in their specific jurisdiction and ultimately improve outcomes for LGBQ/GNCT youth, the PREA Standards have required facilities to start collecting sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE) data so that they can have information about all aspects of youths’ identities.

Even more importantly, as the field moves residential and supervision functions from law enforcement agencies to health and human services agencies, any professional working with youth should be thinking about building authentic relationships that aim to improve well-being.

This guide presents both a guide for collecting SOGIE data as well as a perspective on how this practice should fit within reforms to treat all youth respectfully, with the ultimate aim of improving well-being.

Whole Youth Model

This guide recommends that justice stakeholders—chiefs of probation, division directors, and institution staff and community probation officers—adopt practices that help them understand and support the young people in their care and custody. Its recommendations reflect reforms that transition from a focus on surveillance and punishment to a focus on health and well-being. Critical to this transition is a more accurate and nuanced understanding of the lives, experiences, and identities of the young people who are among the least likely to benefit from efforts to decrease the use of incarceration: LGBQ/GNCT youth of color.

The whole youth model begins with authentic conversations between staff and youth. Data collection is achieved through a series of questions aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of young people, the circumstances of their lives that contribute to disparate suffering and punishment, and how justice professionals might best ensure their well-being and meet their needs. The model is grounded in the following guiding principles:

1. Variations in sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are part of the normal spectrum of human diversity.

2. The increased risks faced by LGBTQ and gender nonconforming youth—particularly those of color—are not inherent to their identities but stem from the stresses of prejudice, discrimination, rejection, and mistreatment.

3. Like all children, LGBTQ and gender nonconforming children thrive and succeed when their families, schools, and communities support and nurture their evolving identities.

4. Efforts to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity are ineffective, unnecessary, and harmful.

5. LGBTQ and gender nonconforming young people are not a homogenous population; they embody multiple identities that confer unique and intersecting stressors and strengths.

6. Regardless of personal beliefs, employees and contractors of public systems of care are legally and ethically required to treat LGBTQ and gender nonconforming young people equitably and respectfully.

7. Treating youth as whole people will improve the relationship that one has and the services one provides.

8. Asking questions about their multiple identities, such as SOGIE and race/ethnicity, will help you understand and treat youth as whole people.

9. Permitting youth to decide when and to whom to disclose their SOGIE protects their safety and promotes their healthy development.

Although the model is conceptually simple, implementation requires intentional sequenced changes in practice. Justice stakeholders must first adopt a new mindset about their jobs. They must absorb the existing research documenting disparities based on race and SOGIE, as well as rapidly evolving terms and concepts related to these aspects of human identity. Perhaps most challenging, they must overcome their discomfort and reticence to ask young people about their intersectional identities. The recommendations in this guide provide an implementation roadmap.

Three Pillars of Change

Collection of individual SOGIE and race data is the practice around which the whole youth model is centered. Prior to implementing data collection, it is imperative that agencies prepare personnel to implement this practice professionally, consistently, and effectively. Properly sequenced, the model requires agencies to adopt written nondiscrimination and data-sharing policies, deliver training to all relevant personnel, and finally, implement protocols to collect and analyze SOGIE data. Policies, training, and data collection are the three pillars upon which the model rests.

Written Policy as a Pillar of Change

Adoption of written policies prior to collecting and recording SOGIE data is essential to clarifying the purposes for the data collection, promoting consistent and professional practices, obtaining accurate data, ensuring the safety and privacy of youth, and clarifying the agency’s expectations of its employees and contractors.

Recommendations for Policies

We recommend that broader nondiscrimination policies include the following sections:

Background and Purpose

The policy should provide the context and reasons for requiring intake staff to collect SOGIE data from each youth.

Scope of Policy

The policy should clarify that its provisions apply to all employees and contractors and protect all youth served by the agency. The agency should formally adopt and approve the policy prior to the collection of individual SOGIE data.


The policy should explicitly prohibit discrimination against any youth based on the youth’s actual or perceived SOGIE and require that all personnel provide each youth with fair and equal treatment and access to services, irrespective of the youth’s actual or perceived SOGIE. This policy, formally adopted and approved by the relevant agency, provides essential protection to youth and personnel by clarifying the agency’s commitment to equality and inclusion.

Equal and Respectful Treatment

In addition to straightforward language prohibiting discrimination, the policy should identify specific behaviors that create a safe and inclusive environment.

Policy Dissemination

The policy should require staff to provide a written and verbal explanation to youth of their rights and obligations under the policy, as well as the procedures for reporting violations, in a manner that the youth can understand.

Grievance Procedure

The policy should describe a process by which youth can submit grievances alleging violations of the policy. The process should be accessible to all youth, including those with limited literacy, limited English proficiency, or intellectual, learning, or developmental disabilities. The process should be confidential and provide for the fair and prompt consideration and resolution of grievances. It must also expressly prohibit retaliation.


The policy should give youth as much control as possible over any disclosure of their SOGIE to third parties. Ideally, the policy should prohibit personnel from disclosing the youth’s SOGIE to anyone outside the agency, including the youth’s parents, without obtaining the youth’s consent, unless the disclosure is required by law or court order. Any required disclosure related to a youth’s SOGIE should be limited to the information necessary to achieve a specific beneficial purpose and must be documented.


The policy should require that all personnel receive training on the policy prior to collecting SOGIE data.

Intake and Assessment

The policy should require intake staff to ask each youth about their SOGIE and not make assumptions based on appearance or stereotypes. Staff should not compel youth to disclose the information nor threaten a youth with discipline for declining to disclose this information. The policy should provide that when a youth discloses that they are LGBQ/GNCT, the person conducting the interview will talk with the youth in an open and non-judgmental fashion and ask if the youth has any concerns or needs related to their SOGIE.


The policy should include definitions of any terms related to SOGIE that are used in the policy.

Training as a Pillar of Change

Providing training prior to incorporating the SOGIE data questions into existing case management systems is essential to the quality of the data and the safety and well-being of the young people responding to the questions. Training should include guiding principles to establish the importance of affirming all of youths’ identities, basic LGBQ/GNCT terms, new data-collection protocols, and a section for practicing interviewing youth in an affirming way.

SOGIE Data Collection as a Pillar of Change

Collecting SOGIE data is essential for making data-driven decisions about improving systems for LGBQ/GNCT youth.

Recommendations for SOGIE Data Collection

There are a number of considerations and decisions to make before a jurisdiction should collect SOGIE data.


As described above, sites should have anti-discrimination and data-sharing policies to protect youth in the system. Sites should also properly train line staff so that they know what questions to ask and how to ask them. Finally, sites should identify community-based partners that are affirming of LGBT youth for referrals.[8]

Case Management Systems

Sites should set up a system for collecting data. Ideally, case management systems will be revised to capture information about at least the following six categories: sex assigned at birth, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, attraction, and a question that indicates whether line staff are worried that a young person will be bullied based on their appearance.

Creating Safe Spaces

Once an agency has implemented policies and trainings, they should also create a safe place to ask SOGIE questions. As with all intake questions and assessments, youth should be interviewed in the most private settings possible. When staff introduce the questions, they should explain that all youth are asked the same questions. Finally, the SOGIE questions should be woven into all the other demographic questions that a site asks. Creating a separate section or weaving SOGIE questions into medical or sexual history questions can send the message that sexual orientation and gender identity are not a normal part of adolescent development.

Supporting Youth

As staff ask SOGIE questions, they should use respectful and supportive language. They should avoid making any assumptions about sexual orientation or gender identity or gender expression based on how a young person presents themselves. They should be aware of cultural or generational differences that may exist between themselves and the young person. And by remaining curious and asking follow-up questions about what new terms mean, staff can signal a comfort and an openness to any answers that youth choose to provide.

Asking SOGIE Questions

Once sites have a safe space, a revised case management system, and a method for collecting SOGIE data, line staff can start asking the questions. Most jurisdictions have learned that asking youth questions in rote format is ineffective. Instead, staff that have been trained in motivational interviewing know that assessment and intake procedures can be conversational and, therefore, more comfortable for young people. We therefore recommend that staff take the time to ask SOGIE questions in an open and curious way. Probation officers and court staff are encouraged to expand on this script even further by asking follow-up questions if a young person uses a term they are unfamiliar with. At all times, adults are most affirming when they are genuinely interested in the multiple layers of youths’ lives.

Using Data to Inform Practice and Improve Outcomes for LGBQ/GNCT Youth

As discussed above, asking youth SOGIE questions helps develop a stronger relationship with them. In addition, the aggregate data helps jurisdictions understand where they could improve practices and policies in order to ultimately improve outcomes for LGBQ/ GNCT youth.

Findings from the First Sites

Ceres and our partners pulled together three counties in Ohio, three counties in New York, and the state of Connecticut for our first cohort of Whole Youth Project sites. After passing policies, training staff, revising case management systems, and collecting data, most of these sites were ready to download what they have for data analysis. We compiled information from Lucas County, Ohio; Montgomery County, Ohio; Schenectady County, New York; and the state of Connecticut into one large dataset.

This data was analyzed using a combination of descriptive and advanced statistics tests. We ran descriptive statistics tests in order to understand the population of youth we had collected data from. These youth varied across race and SOGIE:

• There were a total of 2,249 youth in the dataset.

• Of these youth, 608 came from Lucas County, 889 from Montgomery County, 110 from Schenectady County, and 640 from Connecticut.

• The majority of youth—62 percent—were of color, and the largest proportion of youth of color were Black. Of respondents, 52.4 percent were Black, 38 percent were White, 5.5 percent were multiracial, 3.6 percent were Latinx, 0.3 percent were Asian, and 0.2 percent were Indigenous.

• The proportion of LGBQ/ GNCT youth in the sites approached national estimates. While 20 percent of youth nationally report being LGBQ/ GNCT on anonymous surveys, 15.7 percent of youth reported being LGBQ/GNCT on face-toface intake questions.

• While 40 percent of girls report being LGBQ/GNCT on anonymous surveys, 34.6 percent of girls in our sample reported being LGBQ/GNCT.

We ran analyses of variance and binary logistic regression tests to determine if LGBQ/GNCT youth were experiencing disparities in outcomes. We had four major findings. LGBQ/GNCT youth were:

• 40 percent more likely to receive a high-risk score;

• 40 percent more likely to be detained prior to adjudication; and

• 50 percent more likely to be charged with a violent felony.

In addition, LGBQ/GNCT Black girls were 4.8 times (380 percent) more likely to have a sustained weapon charge.

Recommendations for Putting Data into Practice

Analysis of SOGIE data reveals areas for system reform. For the first group of Whole Youth Project sites, we recommend the following:

High Risk Scores

In order to address the problem of more LGBQ/GNCT youth receiving high-risk scores, we recommend that sites ask the vendors that provide their risk for revalidation to ensure equity across SOGIE.

High Rates of Detention

In order to address the problem of having more LGBQ/GNCT youth in detention, sites should similarly review their detention risk instruments and risk overrides to ensure equity.

Higher Rates of Sustained Violent Charges

In order to address higher rates of sustained violent charges, sites should first review case files to see if violent charges are justified. Research in California suggests that only 13 percent of robberies and assaults result in serious bodily injury. This necessitates that the field critically consider when a violent charge is warranted. Secondly, for those youth who have caused serious harm, sites should pursue restorative community programs that can address underlying conflict and violence while simultaneously affirming youth culture, race, and SOGIE.

Higher Rates of Weapons Charges

As with violent charges, sites should develop a continuum of care that can serve LGBQ/GNCT youth of color in an affirming way. Systems should then refer youth with weapons charges to identified programs that can address the underlying reasons for carrying weapons while affirming youth culture, race, and SOGIE. As other sites compile and analyze their data, they will inevitably yield different results. As counties pursue reforms to improve outcomes for LGBQ/GNCT youth, they may want to initiate the following reforms:

• Examine opportunities to improve internal practices inside facilities. One specific example might be a decision grid for out-of-home practices. If your data suggests that LGBQ/GNCT youth are being placed in group homes at higher rates than other youth, consider creating a multi-disciplinary team that reviews placements. Then, have this group develop a structured decision-making grid that will make decisions more equitable.

• Develop intersectional and affirming terms of probation and release plans to promote successful and permanent exits from the system. One example of this would be to review whether your system automatically refers youth to mental health programming. Affirming mental health services are difficult to find for LGBQ/GNCT youth. They should not be punished for failing to attend services that are not supportive or where they are not comfortable.

• Share data with other youth-serving agencies and community-based organizations to identify affirming interventions and opportunities. Sharing aggregated findings from analyses that review differences across SOGIE and race should be shared with all system partners so that each community can develop a coordinated and consistent response to LGBQ/ GNCT youth.

• Begin developing a continuum of care for LGBQ/GNCT youth. Since most probation and youth court systems serve the majority of youth in the community, each site should intentionally work with system partners and community-based organizations to train line staff around the entire county and develop referral systems that affirm all layers of youth identity. It should be noted that some LGBQ/GNCT youth prefer to not attend specialized programs for LGBQ/GNCT communities. For this reason, careful and thoughtful referral assessments are required so that youth can help identify the services they feel most comfortable attending.


[1] Jake Horowitz and Arna Carlock, Juvenile Commitment Rate Falls by Half Nationally in 10 Years: Youth crime and out-of-home population decline in tandem as states ramp up reforms,” Pew Research Center, New York, New York, 18 September 2017.

[2] Jill Tucker and Joaquin Palomino, “Vanishing Violence: An investigative Series,” San Francisco Chronicle, 2019.

[3] Jeremy Loudenback, “California Governor’s Opening Salvo: Scrapping Its Juvenile Justice System,” Chronicle of Social Change, 11 January 2019.

[4] Jeremy Loudenback, “L.A. County Will Explore Possibility of Separating Youth from Probation,” Chronicle of Social Change, 14 August 2019.

[5] Vivian Ho, “‘Outdated and expensive’: San Francisco to close juvenile hall in pioneering move,” The Guardian, London, United Kingdom, 6 June 2019.

[6] Antoinette Davis, Angela Irvine, and Jason Ziedenberg, Stakeholders’ Views on the Movement to Reduce Youth Incarceration, The National Council on Crime and Delinquency (Oakland, California, 2014) [PDF file].

[7] Allen Beck and David Cantor, Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2012, National Survey of Youth in Custody, 2012, Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice (Washington, DC, 2013) [PDF file].

[8] Malachi Larrabee-Garza, SOGIE Community Engagement Memo, Innovative Justice Solutions (Oakland, California, 2019).