Monday, 9 July 2007

Emergency contraception in schools - setting the record straight

Yet again there is a misleading story in the press about school based sexual health services this week. According to the story there are hundreds of eleven year olds having sex and being encouraged to do so by the provision of emergency contraception in schools.

Most young people under the age of 16 do not have sex. At 11 the numbers of children who have consensual sex, that is not abusive are tiny. Any professional told by an 11 year old they are having sex is always extremely concerned. In almost all cases it will be viewed as a child protection issue, and sensitive work with the child so they can identify what help is needed and the best way to get help will take place. Telling the parent may not always be the answer, if there is abuse or violence in the family for example.

This is true whether the health service provision is located in the community or provided on school premises. Across the country schools decide to establish health services on school grounds because young people and professionals tell them they are needed. Not just for sex advice but so young people can get help on a whole range of issues from stress, pressure and emotional well being, sorting out spots and smelly feet, getting contraception and emergency contraception, issues with family and friends etc. Providing these services is the right and moral thing for schools to do, particularly where young people cannot get to any others, for example those who live in rural areas and are bussed many miles to school each day.

And schools develop these services with the support of the absolute vast majority of parents and the community - yet we never hear their voices because of the deafening cry from the tiny numbers of parents who do not support them. We get many calls at Brook from parents who find themselves upset when they find their daughter is on the pill, or has found themselves pregnant. Typically the story takes a similar path - i wish she wasn't having sex, and if she is i wish she had been able to talk to me, and as the conversation develops parents say if felt she couldn't talk to me I am so pleased there was somewhere she could go to get help to stay safe.

That somewhere may be Brook, it may be a school based service, or it may be the local GP. The important thing is not where it is, but that it is provided by trained staff who are committed to young people's safety, who will help them think about the rights and choices they have, including the right not to have sex, and will also encourage them to talk to an adult they trust.

Up and down the country professionals are working hard to work in partnership with parents and to support young people to make real choices about relationships so they can enjoy and take responsibility for the sex they have, when they do decide to have it.

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