Local analysis shows elevated risk factors for LGBT youth in SLO County
Every two years, California’s public school students have an opportunity to participate in the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) through the Department of Education.
“This is a way for students to have a voice in what’s going on at their schools and be able to communicate that to us,” Dr. Tom Herman from the California Department of Education said.
Herman said the CA Healthy Kids Survey has been ongoing for about 20 years. Though 2021 data isn’t out yet, he said the most recent available data from 2019 includes responses from more than 1 million students.
“The survey is anonymous, of course, but it allows the schools and districts to look at what’s happening in their schools in terms of the perception that students have,” he said.
Herman said the survey asks students about a variety of topics including school engagement, health and safety, and they can skip questions if they want to.
Dr. John Elfers, a longtime San Luis Obispo educator and Sofia University professor, said the student survey provides a huge sample of data for analysis.
“With a data set that large, we can be confident that the numbers and percentages that are being presented based on the data set are quite accurate,” he said.
Elfers dug into the 2019 data for middle and high school students in San Luis Obispo County. His study went beyond the state’s analysis and broke down the numbers for two categories: Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual, or LGB, youth and also Transgender.
He analyzed responses for 54 risk factors in both categories.
“Looking at school issues related to attendance, how often do you skip school? Safety, do you feel safe? Have you been in a fight? Have you carried a gun to school? Have you been bullied? And out of the 54, LGB and T were significantly elevated in all of them,” Elfers said.
He said 8,000 local students participated in the 2019 CHKS – that’s about half of all the public middle school and high school students in SLO county.
Of those students, he said 7% self-identified as LGB, and 1% as Transgender. The county’s percentages for LGBT youth align closely with the state’s statistics.
Elfers said his analysis shows concerning data about mental health and wellness, for example, student responses to a question about recent thoughts of suicide.
“In the non-LGB population it was about 16%, which is alarming in and of itself, but in the LGB population it is 50%,” he said.
Elfers shares the analysis with local school administrators, though he said youth mental health is not just a problem for schools to solve – it’s something everyone needs to be aware of. You can find his full report online at Central Coast Coalition for Inclusive Schools.
The next dataset from the state’s California Healthy Kids Survey is expected later this year.