The Sexual Health of Children and Young People in Care Forum

by PeakCare Qld on 5th December 2012

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Armed with the task of providing practical information for carers, practitioners and child protection personnel in assisting children and young people in care with sexual health, our international expert Simon Blake took up the challenge in offering this forum on behalf of PeakCare and Family Planning Queensland.

Simon is one of the United Kingdom’s foremost writers, campaigners, advocates and trainers promoting young people's sexual rights and a positive culture in which children and young people can develop and grow safely, confidently and responsibly.  He is also Chief Executive of Brook, the leading young people's sexual health charity in the UK. Through clinical and support services, education and training and their information service Brook had direct contact with over 300,000 young people last year.

This Sexual Health Forum headlining Simon Blake was introduced by PeakCare’s Executive Director Lindsay Wegener.  A warm welcome was then given by Commissioner Elizabeth Fraser, who had also graciously offered a training room for the event. 

In his opening statements Simon Blake drew parallels between the English child protection system and that of Queensland.  In doing so he highlighted the poor outcomes for children in care and the need to question the wisdom of taking more and more children into the statutory care system.  He then moved on to say that children who’ve had a rough start can, with solid relationships and the right supports, achieve improved outcomes.  He gave a copper pipe analogy to simply explain the complex brain science currently at the fore of trauma research:

If a copper pipe has lime scale and it is not cleaned well, it won’t work.

If you clean the copper pipe well enough, it can work again. 

So whilst we know that abuse and trauma has impacts on the developing brain of infants and young children (much like lime scale in this instance), we also know with the right treatments and solid relationships they can be significantly assisted and mended to function well again.  A consistent albeit welcome message we receive on a regular basis and a most timely reminder that with the right services at the right time, trauma can be healed and positive futures can be hoped for when working with children in care.

So with that solid grounding in place (whilst on the road to removing the lime scale), we returned to the key question at hand.  How can we best support the sexual health needs of young people in care?

Components of success include:

  • Open, positive culture and good (consistent) communication about emotions, relationships, sex and sexuality at home, in school and the community
  • Relationships based on trust
  • Positive social norms and high expectations
  • High hopes, dreams and aspirations for the future and support to achieve this
  • Personal, social and health education in schools
  • Targeted outreach and support for those who need it, including young parents   
  • Young people friendly, high quality services that are recognised and trusted by young people and provide counselling, advice, are grounded in rights and responsibilities
  • Personalised one to one support
  • Good peer and social networks

Positive benefits are more likely if young people are actively involved in planning, design, delivery and evaluation so it is relevant to their needs and concerns and they feel ownership.  Workers need to be confident in their engagement of young people.

Interventions work well if they address self-esteem of young people, emotional well-being and raise aspirations as their core.  Such processes involve multi-disciplinary approaches with consistent messages.  Such interventions must be sustained over a suitable period of time to allow young people to develop trust in what is being offered.

The reality for young people in care is that they often experience higher rates of teen pregnancy and parenting (approximately four fold in Australia); they also experience higher rates of sexual abuse and fall into ethnic minority categories as well as children with disabilities which add further marginalisation to the mix.  Separation and attachment are significant issues.  As such relationships with trusted adults are vital.

With all these considerations at play, carers often feel unsure as to how to best address the issues of healthy sexuality with young people.  Sometimes they are unsure about the impact of past experiences and are unsure what the boundaries are.  Furthermore, their own beliefs and values can add further complexity to the matter of assisting young people in healthy sexual development.

In navigating these concerns carers can offer open communication and talk about feelings and relationships.  They can seek the advice and support of a sexual health service and counsellors.  Most importantly, it doesn’t need to be complicated.  Ask for support of the professionals who understand this work.  Keep it simple.  Keep it normal.  Sexual health and sexuality is just that.

Whilst the wisdom of Simon was sinking in for those of us in attendance, we were then treated to a video by CREATE which offered the insight of  some Queensland young people with a care experience with regard to sexual health.  Their key message is that knowledge is power and children and young people in care need the adults in their lives to feel confident to talk about sexuality, relationships and sexual health.

This informative presentation can be viewed here….

http://www.fpq.com.au/education/Create.php

The forum Simon presented together with the experiences shared by young people in care offered significant insights and challenged those of us present to really think about this issue and come up with strategies as to how we could best support the sexual health of young people in care.  In summarising his work in the United Kingdom Simon spoke of funding his organisation received to offer a professional development resource for practitioners based on the work of Family Planning Queensland and their internationally acclaimed Traffic Light Guide to Sexual behaviours aimed to assist practitioners. http://www.fpq.com.au/publications/fsBrochures/br_Sexual_Behaviours.php

It is heartening that the expertise and excellent innovation of Family Planning Queensland has gained such international attention.  Hopefully in time the appreciation clearly noted by our international colleagues and their subsequent capacity to use FPQ’s top shelf resource as the hallmark of their professional development resource will be noted here in Queensland. 

The benefits of such an excellent resource being rolled out as a professional development tool for all of Queensland’s key practitioners including teachers, social workers, community services workers, counsellors, carers and parents supporting children and young people in ensuring sexual health and well-being is evident from the research outlined and further exemplified through Simon’s presentation.  To see the work of FPQ noted on our home ground, utilised here for the benefit of ensuring that such practice wisdom developed locally and acclaimed internationally could be embedded in practice in Queensland would be a positive step in supporting the sexual health of our young people, particularly those in care.

 

A guide to identifying sexual behaviours

This innovative resource is based on the original 'Traffic Light Framework' developed by Family Planning Queensland in Australia and has been adapted for use within the UK. The resource uses a traffic light tool to categorise the sexual behaviours of young people, to help professionals.

 

The above information is taken from the Brook website.  For further information on their traffic lights project adapted from FPQ’s innovative work, click here:

http://www.brook.org.uk/traffic-lights/guidance

 

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