Human Services for Low-Income and At-Risk LGBT Populations: Identifying the Knowledge Base and Developing a Research Agenda

Prepared for
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation

Research indicates that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) populations may face disproportionate risks to their economic and social well-being, yet much remains unknown about the needs of these populations and whether federal human service programs are equipped to meet them.

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) is responsible for many of the federal human services programs that promote the economic and social well-being of families, children, individuals, and communities. Recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and ACF have taken steps to strengthen services for LGBT populations. One of these steps is to identify the current knowledge base and establish priorities for future research.

Mathematica, in partnership with the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, conducted an assessment for ACF’s Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation (OPRE) to help them better understand the human services needs of LGBT people and create a research agenda on this topic. The project focused on: (1) income support and self-sufficiency programs for low-income families; (2) child welfare programs; and (3) programs for youth, particularly services funded by ACF, such as assistance for runaway and homeless youth, and sexual health education.

Researchers used a variety of methods to conduct the assessment, including developing an annotated bibliography on LGBT populations and human services, consulting with an member expert panel and representatives of ACF program offices, conducting secondary data analyses, completing case studies of providers serving runaway and homeless LGBT youth, and interviewing staff at state and community agencies providing human services to LGBT people.

Overall, the review suggests that LGBT people could benefit from improvements to social services, such as increasing providers’ familiarity with the particular needs and circumstances of these populations. However, data on the socioeconomic circumstances of LGBT people are limited, and 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.

The assessment 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, especially transgender people and people of color
  • Understanding potential barriers to service access
  • Identifying and documenting current efforts to improve human service delivery to LGBT populations
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of human service interventions targeting LGBT populations