Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Learning a language of hate

Today is my last day in the office until January 5th. It has become something of a ritual for me to take the first day back to work after the new year off - it feels like a sneaky duvet day. As usual on the last day in my office I have the inevitable cold which as my lovely mother would say is because 'you've been burning the candle at both ends': and she is right I have. In recent weeks I have set myself ridiculous false deadlines (again) and been out far too many nights in a row to meet up with friends and colleagues (again). It has, however, been fun.

Last night I went for supper with some friends and we had a really interesting discussion about the changing way we are using communication and concluded rightly or wrongly that across the generations we have started to express 'hate' more and more openly - lets use X factor as an example - how many times did you hear people say or write on twitter and facebook I 'hate' one or more of the finalists? Hatred moving easily from person to person as the finalists whittled down. Lots of people denounced as rubbish - mostly because we don't like them, not because they were rubbish (ok lets be honest sometimes it wasn't good); and then being jubilant when they get knocked out of the competition (track facebook comments at the time that Katie Waissel or One Direction were knocked out for example). Wouldn't it be better to say who we did like and who we did want to win, rather than who we 'hate', think is 'rubbish' and want to be knocked out?

If we learn to express dislike as 'hate' easily and can want to see people fail, there are at least two challenges. First we need tough, resilient children who can shrug off 'hate' and succeed even if others do not want them to. Second we need to start talking about what 'hating' really means so it doesn't become the new way of being happy. If anything we dislike or disagree with becomes a target for 'hate' we will struggle to be genuinely happy and to develop young citizens who respect differences and want to see people succeed. We still have a culture in which bullying is rife in schools; and prejudice and discrimination is an everyday reality for so many children. Learning a language and easy expression of 'hate' cannot be a good thing.

So to end 2010 with some loving....it has been quite a year at Brook - the Network of Brook charities decided to become one organisation that will launch in 2011, new contracts, Care Quality Commission registration, new campaigns, publications, conferences, seminars, uncertainty about future funding, young people working full time in the national office, the launch of the worlds first contraception decision tool in partnership with FPA, education, clinical and support services delivered week in week out to thousands of young people, information over the telephone and the web etc etc. And I am immensely proud of everything that staff and volunteers including trustees across the Brook Network have achieved - even if they didn't always do it my way!

Working year of 2010, over and out.

Working with boys and young men – new guidance from Brook

Brook has developed new guidance which if used to inform commissioning and practice can dramatically improve the way we talk about sex and sexual health with boys and young men, and the way we think about addressing the needs of particular groups of young men.

In developing the guidance I had the privilege of working with Trefor Lloyd who has more experience than most of working with boys and young men and one of the highlights of this year has been running a series of workshops with highly skilled professionals across the country and seeing how much more sophisticated our understanding of the need to engage boys and young men is, and the levels of creativity in engaging them effectively.

The guidance addresses topics such as consent, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), sexual violence and teenage pregnancy and is designed to ensure that across the country education and services better meet the needs of boys and young men.

Ensuring we meet the needs of boys and young men is vital to improving the country’s public health. It is particularly important to focus on education which tackles homophobia, sexual consent, infection and asking for support if we are really to make a difference.

Children’s Minister Sarah Teather made the following statement about the guide:

“Teenage pregnancy rates in this country are falling but remain disappointingly high, particularly compared to our European neighbours. Some parts of the country have had great success in reducing teenage pregnancy rates but other areas have not. It is important we understand how and why.

“In the current economic climate it is more important than ever before for professionals to work together. Family and Health Services should be sharing best practice and affordable, innovative solutions for reducing teenage pregnancies and supporting teen parents. It is particularly important for professionals to take account of good practice when developing new services.

“I am glad Brook have chosen to focus on young men in this guide, whose needs are not often given enough priority in teenage pregnancy plans.

“Local authorities are best placed to tailor services to suit the young people in their region; but guides like this provide tangible examples of successful practice.

“I would like to thank Brook for their contribution to this important area.”

You can read the full press release here or find out more about the guidance here.

Brook’s Christmas and New Year campaign, teenage pregnancy and access to emergency contraception

This year Brook has launched a new version of our Have fun. Be careful campaign. Official statistics show that more teenagers get pregnant in December and January than any other time of year and our campaign reminds young people that if they are going to have sex to make sure they feel ready, to use contraception and always use a condom to also protect from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The new posters can be found here.

I am concerned that this year because of the way the Christmas and New Year holidays fall emergency contraception may also be harder to access with some clinics not open for more than 72 hours from Christmas Eve and limited opening times during the break. It is vital therefore that young people are given as much information as we can provide about where and when they can get help during this time if they need it.

Pharmacies will be a vital provider of emergency contraception - here is the link to Ask Brook and the NHS Choices website where you can search for sexual health services by postcode, and if you select emergency contraception this also includes pharmacy provision.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Tough choices or simple math?

Today, the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group, of which I am a member, publishes its final report. In it we warn that teenage pregnancy rates will start to rise again without strong national leadership, continued investment in contraceptive services and renewed urgency behind improving sex and relationships education.

Yes there are some genuinely tough choices to make about spending, but when it comes to preventing teenage pregnancy, it is a matter of simple math. As the TP IAG states in the report, if we disinvest (cut) contraceptive services now, it will cost councils, the NHS and the Treasury more. And quite simply it isn't a cut now, pay later deal.

So I recommend those councils and PCTs that are drawing up plans to cut services take heed of the advice from TP IAG and think hard and think again.

Here is a link to the BBC coverage of the TP IAG report

TP IAG has done some really important work over the last decade and whilst this group is coming to an end, as this report states, the policy focus on teenage pregnancy and parenthood must not for at least two reasons;

young people need education and support so they can both enjoy and take responsibility for the sex they have and use contraception effectively

those who become young parents need really high quality support so they can be brilliant

Sunday, 28 November 2010

V team cohort 3 debut speech at the House of Lords

Rarely do I get a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye as quickly as I did last Thursday when cohort 3 of the young V team did their debut presentation on their work. Little more than two months into their 44 week placement, the team of nine volunteers made it very clear that society needs to change its attitude to young people and sex, that government has its part to play in improving education and services, and we all have a part in getting more sensible and most of all to trust young people.

They also made it clear that they don't want to put up with second best for themselves or future generations of young people, and that they are determined to make some loud noise about this over the coming months. They teased us with a glimpse of the determination and verve with which their sex positive campaign is being developed, without telling us what they were going to do and how. So watch this space, follow @brookcharity and @simonablake on twitter, visit our website www.brook.org.uk to find out more about their campaign and how you can get involved in making a noise when it launches.

The V team may have stolen the show, and I was enormously proud of them. And I was equally proud of the the rest of the Brook team from across the Network and the national office. Margaret Mead's quote 'don't ever think a group of committed citizens can't change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has' was certainly fitting for Brook's Parliamentary Reception. When I looked across the room at our partners, stakeholders, colleagues, friends, members and supporters we were there united in our commitment to enable young people to enjoy their sexuality without harm - a force to be reckoned with indeed.

Friday, 26 November 2010

It gets better....

This video by Pixar Animation Studios about being gay is utterly inspiring..... and inspired. Well done Pixar.


Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Teenage Conception Statistics published by ONS

Yesterday the Office National Statistics published their conception statistics for Quarter 3 of 2009. The statistics are really starting to show the impact of sustained activity and resource to educate young people about relationships, sex and contraception, and provide them with the support to make active choices about sex and pregnancy.

· The rate of under-18 conceptions was 36.3 per 1000 girls aged 15-17 – 6.2% lower than the rate of 38.7 for third quarter 2008. For under-18 conceptions, the rolling quarterly average continues to fall and has now fallen over the last eight quarters. The rolling quarterly average for under-18 conceptions is at its lowest rate since quarterly data collection.

· The rate of under-16 conceptions was 7.0 per 1000 girls aged 13-15 – 7.9% lower than the rate of 7.6 for third quarter 2008.

This welcome news comes hot on the heels of an article in Children and Young People Now in which Gill Frances, Chair of the Independent Advisory Group on Teenage Pregnancy, whose work ends in December, warns that without strong national leadership, and continued investment at the local level teenage pregnancy rates will rise. The link to the article is here www.cypnow.co.uk/news/1042283/Teenage-pregnancy-services-risk-funding-diverted/

Monday, 22 November 2010

Inaccurate report from the Times on the future of 'sexual health lessons'

Last week The Times reported that 'lessons in Citizenship, sexual health, thinking and functional skills are set to be dropped by many in a radical slimming down of the national curriculum'. It is based on the information on an unnamed Government source and perhaps more solidly on a paper written by Tim Oates, director of research at Cambridge Assessment, parent body of the OCR exam board.

Now the headline was clear - 'sexual health lessons to be scrapped in review of the curriculum', and understandably there was a little twitter of concern about the implications of this. I read the paper this weekend to ascertain the truth.

The paper Could do better: using international comparisons to refine National Curriculum in England does indeed mention sexual health on page 2. It says;

Adjustments have occurred not only in the 'core' material of the currculum (e.g the removal of the cross curriculum themes and skills: the move from ten levels to eight) but in the repeated addition of new material (e.g functional skills, Citizenship, sexual health as a theme in biology), changes in assessment (e.g the incorporation of mental mathematics in testing......

But that is the only mention, and Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education in his Foreword states that Department for Education will 'launch its own review of the National Curriculum and the remit will explicitly, for the first time, require benchmarking against the most successful school systems.'

So my conclusion is that we don't know whether or not sexual health lessons will be scrapped in the review of the national curriculum, because the review hasn't happened yet - the only exception to my conclusion would be if the government source quoted in the article told The Times more than 'the national curriculum MIGHT be reduced to 20 or 30 pages and gave a more detailed account of what it would include. Unlikely if the review hasn't happened.

For those of you interested in the national curriculum, Oates' paper is worth a read.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Goodbye and thank you to our second group of Campaign Volunteers

This week we wave a sad goodbye to our second group of Campaign Volunteers. It has been fantastic and inspiring working with them and I would like to wish them all the best for the future.

Talking about their time with Brook one of the volunteers said:

"So its two days before we leave, and as we look around watching everyone type away and talk to each other like in any ordinary office – we remember the things that don’t make this an ordinary office at all. We think about all the crazy things that have happened over the past year, to make it an extraordinary office.

"That meeting room has seen hundreds of meetings between us, in building the Big issues don’t have to be a big deal campaign to what it is today. It echoes of pitches from agencies, decision making, debating on the right copy, slogan, colour and theme. And if you listen hard enough, you can hear hammering and noise from the back of the office where we were preparing for the Stockton launch making piƱatas and a face in the wall – ready to take the campaign to Stockton.

"Stockton didn’t know what hit them when we arrived – in two days we spread the message of self-esteem to the young people of Stockton resulting in 25 young people getting tested for Chlamydia, giving over 150 young people goodie bags with details of Brook’s local services, condoms and educational leaflets, and collectively speaking to at least 200 young people. It was inspiring to see our campaign in action and to see other young people’s reactions to it - especially when they came back later in the day just to say ‘hello’ wearing our t-shirts. It was a really positive two days and all the hard work definitely paid off.

"Through volunteering at Brook, we’ve had an eclectic mix of things to do and places to go. Seen cities we’ve never been to before, and been able to represent the views of young people. Brook provides a really nurturing environment to volunteer in and has allowed us to grow and develop as individuals. We’ve been able to give speeches about issues we’re passionate about, network at Brook 100 events and meet people we’d never have met if not in Brook.

"Talking of meeting new people, a key date in the diary was 10 September 2010 – the day JLS came to national office and talked to us about sexual health. They were really cool and believed in what we’re doing at Brook.

"They share our aspirations for young people’s sexual health, which is to see more young people looking after themselves and their sexual wellbeing. The impact that they have was evident in Stockton, where we saw the interest young people had on a campaign supported by JLS.

"Our time at Brook has been a journey, taking the rough with the smooth and learning about ourselves every step of the way. We wish the next group of nine volunteers all the best in their journey. We’re sure they’ll all shine as a group as well as individuals – and will continue to make this an extraordinary office."

Youth parliament talking about sex and relationships education

Nothing more needs to be said from me, it just has to be time to listen......


Friday, 22 October 2010

Battle of Ideas - policy and teenage mums

Brook is taking part in Battle of Ideas on Saturday 30 October, an annual festival of a series of open discussions and debates about the challenges facing society.

I am taking part in a debate called Too much, too young: why is policy obsessed with teenage mums? If there is a policy obsession, I hope that this continues through the deep public spending cuts. Whilst many young people are making active choices that are right for them, far too many young people can’t access contraception easily and many come to Brook unsure if they had sex or consented to it, without the confidence to take control of their sexual lives.

Throughout October and November The Independent is publishing a number of blogs from speakers on the issues – to read my article please click here.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Young people and STIs - hear our young volunteers, JLS and Brook staff

Below is the link to a Guardian podcast on sexually transmitted infections. JLS, supporters of Brook's 'Big issues don't have to be a big deal campaign', the young volunteers who produced the 'Big Issues campaign', and Brook's Jules Hillier and Gillian Vanhegan are interviewed for the podcast


Thursday, 7 October 2010

A long couple of weeks at party conference

Anyone who remembers freshers week, or their first holiday with friends, and the extreme fatigue one has at the end of the week will empathise with how I felt climbing into my bed when I got home from the Conservative Party conference earlier this week knowing that the party conference season was over for another year.

The good news is there were reassuring noises being made at the Tories about the importance of sex and relationships education for children and young people, and about the inclusion of sexual health as part of the public health service (white paper to be published this year). Of course we must now all be working hard to ensure the translation of these reassuring noises into policy and practical delivery - and particularly in the context of the Public Health White Paper we must not lose sight of the fact that sexual health is about more than sexually transmitted infections - contraception and abortion services, underpinned by a sex positive approach are an integral part of a successful public health approach.

Sexualisation of young people, particularly via new media and phone technologies was a heated area of debate and discussion in the bar - clearly a vital area that we must be on top of. Of course young people need to know and understand the legal context and the social and personal impact of sharing their own pictures willingly (now), or distributing pictures/stories of others. When thinking about the challenges technological developments present we must keep this in context and our wits firmly around us. Using text, the web and other new media is for some a consenting act and for others a new mode of an age old problem - sexual harassment and sexual bullying.

If you are interested in thinking more about the issues, here are links to a documentary and an article in the Times Educational Supplement on the issue of sex, pornography and new media. I was interviewed for both of these.

- Weblink to Radio 4 documentary ‘Sex, porn and teenagers’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00v1nkx

- Times Education Supplement, 1 October 2010: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6059641

Monday, 4 October 2010

Sexual health must be a key part of the Public Health White Paper

Brook, together with leading charities and specialist professional associations in the field of sexual health, are calling on the Government to make sexual and reproductive health a central plank of the forthcoming Public Health White Paper in England.

Sexual and reproductive health and HIV are an important part of the nation’s public health. There will be real benefits from including these within the scope of national and local work to improve public health.

Please click here to see the joint paper which outlines why sexual and reproductive health must be prioritised.

To find out more about sexual health in your local area visit http://www.shoutloud.org.uk/. SHout Loud is a website for individuals and communities to have a say about sexual health and to receive information updates as they become available.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Sex, religion and the pope

There are pages and pages about the pope's state visit this week - whatever you think about the visit and whatever your religious views and perspectives, one thing is sure, his visit is causing lots of opportunities to discuss (often passionately) how we teach children about relationships, sex and keeping safe with people with all sorts of different beliefs.

I have come across the following articles and letters which are interesting perspectives. I was privileged almost a decade ago to work with a multi-faith group to develop a framework for teaching about sex and relationships in a multi-faith and multi-cultural society. The book, Faith, Values and Sex and Relationships Education published by the National Children's Bureau. The links at the end of the blog provide a link through to the factsheet that came from that work, and some recent case studies of practical work that is being done working with Faith Communities and teaching about sex and relationships.

Report in the telegraph on survey about Roman Catholics views on traditional teaching about sexuality issues, including contraception and homosexuality.


An open letter from FPA and NAT about the pope and his teachings


An article by Polly Toynbee


And finally, here is an excellent factsheet and some case study examples from the Sex Education Forum about how to teach about sex and relationships in a multi-faith and multi-cultural society



Monday, 13 September 2010

Youth Parliament survey on their priorities

The UK Youth Parliament will be discussing their lobbying priorities in the coming weeks. To help them they have done a survey monkey which sets out a range of options. They are asking 11 - 18 year olds to vote on their choices in the survey monkey below. Sex education is one of the options. Please forward the link to anyone you know and ask them to fill out the survey.


Friday, 10 September 2010

JLS visit Brook offices

Yesterday, following the successful launch of their Just Love Safe condom range in partnership with Durex and the JLS Foundation, JLS visited Brook's offices in Kentish Town to talk to the V team and Ask Brook volunteers about young people and sexual health about their views on sex and relationships education, sexual health services for young people, using condoms and their campaign and other voluntary work at Brook.

The room had a group of young people who do different things at Brook and have been learning about sexual health, understanding their thoughts and feelings, gathering their ideas, generating campaigns and helping other young people for different lengths of time. Before JLS arrived they were talking to a journalist, in full flow, articulate, clear and forceful as always and then JLS arrived..... for a few moments it was clearly overwhelming, and whilst the guys were talking and asking them questions it was clear that brains were going blank with star struck terror and it only took a few moments before they were back on form discussing ideas about how to improve sexual health, and the difference such a high profile band can make to improving the country's attitude to sexual health, young people and our appalling rates of teenage pregnancy and sexual health.

I am so impressed with a) their willingness to be such high profile models for this work b) their creative approach to partnership with Durex that will both make condoms more palatable for many as well as raise funds to be put back into improving sexual health and c) their determination to really understand the issues, to spend time finding out by talking to Brook young people, staff and others and their passion to make a difference and be part of the recipe for the needed change. And I am also proud of the team of young people from across Brook and my team at national office for containing themselves beyond the occassional squeal and for some people holding a particularly hard confidence about what was happening, when and where: it was a great team effort the last few days and I proud of the team for working together to make it a useful experience for JLS, and for Brook.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

JLS get behind improving young people's sexual health

Two of Brook's young volunteers and I have just come back from the launch of JLS' charity, JLS Foundation, and their new range of Just Love Safe condoms in partnership with Durex. And to clear this one up at the start - all the profits from the condom sales are going to the JLS Foundation which will support sexual health.

Teenage pregnancy and young people's sexual health has long needed celebrity support and leadership and now at last we have it - incredibly high profile role models who millions of young people respect (and adore) who have already starting speaking out loudly, confidently and intelligently about the need to improve our culture towards sex in this country so that young people can enjoy, take responsibility for, and protect their sexual health.

And in our recent meetings it has been clear that Aston, Oritse, Marvin and JB all know their stuff and they mean business - they know there is no quick fix; today when asked what other causes they may support they said (about sexual health) 'we are in this for the long haul, for as long as it takes'. It is clear that all of them have taken time to understand the issues behind the teenage pregnancy and STI statistics and all of them talk passionately about the need for change.

All of us at Brook are looking forward to working with them over the coming months, years and decades - as long as it takes - so this peculiar 'Benny Hill culture' about all things sexual becomes a thing of the past and all young people get the education, services and support they need so they can have sex when they are ready, with someone they trust, safely.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

STIs - education is the answer not outrage

A good article in the Observer today on the STI data published last week - as a round up of the week the article ncludes some snippets from other newspapers that conclude the increase in diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections as indicative of increasing sexual immorality amongst young people, and make some predictable pronouncements that increases in STIs are a result of sex and relationships education, rather than the increased awareness and testing http://gu.com/p/2jact

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Sexually transmitted infections - latest statistics

Today saw the release of the latest statistics on sexually transmitted infections by the Health Protection Agency.

While the headlines reported on the increasing rates, much of the rise in the overall figures will also be a result of increased awareness and testing which is good news. Quarterly data also shows that teenage pregnancy rates and abortion rates have fallen, showing that we must continue to support young people to make good decisions about their physical and emotional health.

Young people tell us their sex and relationships education (SRE) is too little, too late and too biological and it needs to address emotions and relationships more effectively. Done well, SRE provides an important antidote to the confusing sexual messages they receive in the playground and from the media day in day out.

We urge government to make sex and relationships education statutory in all schools, and to ensure that young people's sexual health is a core part of the forthcoming National Public Health Service.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Interesting research on girls and puberty

There is an increasing body of research about the earlier onset of puberty. This particular article in the Guardian this week focuses on girls in the USA.


Over recent months I find myself in more and more conversations with people across Brook about the younger clients that we see and the questions they have about relationships and sex. The age of puberty, sexual development and sexual activity has been the subject of much discussion ever since I have been working in sexual health over the last 15 years.

This type of research shows yet again that we must work with the fact and science that many children are maturing faster than in previous generations and as adults - parents, teachers and other educators we must ensure we provide timely education and support so they do not grow up with the fear, embarrassment and silence that so many of my generation did.

And of course yet more reinforcement of the need for compulsory sex and relationships education in schools. Not that we require any more evidence of its need.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Sex and relationships education

So another Ofsted report today shows that young people are still not getting good enough sex and relationships education. A timely reminder for the new government that it is not working leaving it up to individual schools and reinforces the importance of making it statutory so we can develop a system which trains and supports teachers so they can feel confident in their skills to teach and avoid the embarrassment which leads to clumsy, boring lessons for young people.


Wednesday, 14 July 2010

From car tax to sexual health MOT

I was trying to sort out a refund on my car tax after writing off my car a couple of weeks ago at directgov and I was really really really pleasantly surprised to see an advert for getting a 'sexual health MOT and a link to the NHS Choices sexual health site - it has put a smile on my face as I try and make sense of what Liberating the NHS, and some of the emerging and very rapid local responses to it may mean for the commissioning of young people's sexual health services.

If you fancy a smile here is the link, but if you are going through this link I have probably ruined the smile of surprise;

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The Ugly Face of Beauty....

...is the name of a TV programme tonight on Channel 4 about plastic surgery. I found much of the information in the programme unsavoury and reinforced some of my questions about the ethics of some plastic surgery/surgeons.

The programme highlighted again how many young people do not like/hate their bodies. It quoted a survey that found body image is one of the biggest causes of unhappiness amongst young people. Whilst I don't know the details of the survey or the questions asked, this echos my experience and that of colleagues at Brook, and I do know from talking to a lot of young people over the last 15 years that it is an issue for both girls and young women as well as boys and young men. With an ever watchful eye on celebrity, we all as parents, carers, educators and service providers must do a lot more to help children and young people grow into young adults who are confident in their own bodies and have the skills and understanding about diet, exercise and its relationship between emotional health as well as physical well being.

But we must take heed of young people's warnings that simply saying nobody is perfect, we all come in different shapes and sizes, and who cares what other people think without taking their concerns seriously won't make any difference to how they feel about themselves.

We have to understand what influences thoughts and feelings, and changes in gender stereotypes and expectations as well as lifestyle changes to understand what needs to happen at both individual and societal levels to turn the tide on young people's loathing of their bodies.

If you didn't watch it, it is worth viewing.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

World first in sexual health as ‘My Contraception Tool’ launched

Simon is away so we wanted to make sure readers of the blog are aware of this outstanding tool to help people make effective contraveptive choices.

Sexual health charities Brook and FPA today launched My Contraception Tool (v1.0) a unique, evidence-based web tool designed to support people’s contraceptive choices by evaluating their preferences and priorities as well as their physical needs. This new web tool is expected to fundamentally change contraceptive consultations - empowering people’s choice and giving invaluable support to busy health professionals.

Eighteen months in development, and launched simultaneously on both organisations’ websites, the tool combines specialist software, research, expertise in decision making and sexual health and months of user involvement and consultation. Using the latest research into every method of contraception, the circumstances, medical history and personal preferences are input by the user online. These data are then processed and each contraceptive method is ranked in order to suit individual needs.

People can log on to My Contraception Tool at www.brook.org.uk/mycontraceptiontool or www.fpa.org.uk/mycontraceptiontool and answer questions about their lifestyle, medical history and their priorities in terms of contraception.

For the full press release please click

Brook Wirral is joint winner of FPA national award for sex education

I am delighted and would like to congratulate Brook Wirral who have been announced as joint winners of the FPA Pamela Sheridan Award for their All Different, All Beautiful programme.

All Different, All Beautiful is a personal development programme aimed at vulnerable and at risk young people in the Wirral. It is aimed at small groups of vulnerable 13 to 19 year olds and runs in schools, hostels and communities with high levels of deprivation. A series of sessions delivered over five days helps participants to explore values, interpersonal skills, confidence and self-esteem within the context of sexual health and relationships.

A key part of All Different, All Beautiful was the development by Brook Wirral of Bitesize Brook, an innovative approach which provides a learning opportunity for young people. BiteSize events take place in large, open areas and enables young people to access information about STIs including HIV, risk taking, alcohol and other drugs in fun, interactive and memorable ways, as well as acting as a bridge to the range of support services available to them in the community.

Last year we saw the roll out of BiteSize Brook through our network, providing training and resources to several other Centres to deliver the programme – a brilliant example of sharing best practice.

The Pamela Sheridan Award is a prestigious national award for excellence in sex and relationships education. Brook Wirral were joint winners of the award this year with Education for Choice. See the link to the full press release here.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Thinking about risk

Lots of professionals are rightly talking about young people and risk taking behaviours. When thinking about sexual health, we need to think about how alcohol and other drugs for example impact on sexual decision making and choices.

I have been doing an assessment of my own risk taking behaviours overnight as I couldn't sleep - the heat combined with hay fever, combined with a couple of frightening near accidents on my bike made for a restless night.

Without doubt the biggest single risk to my health is cycling about 8 miles across London to work 3 or 4 times a week. Yesterday I almost knocked an elderly woman over which frightened us both, this came shortly after a car pulled out very fast in front of me and just before a bus 'made contact with me' as it pushed its way across the road.

This type of incident is not that unusual, it is the fact that three near misses happened within 15 minutes of one another, plus the discomfort of riding in the heat that made me question how sensible it is to cycle and to unconsciously go through a process of assessing the risk.

But what interested me is that i didn't start processing the information thinking in terms of risk, but by the time I was done I had gone through a clear process of risk assessment - what benefit I get from cycling in London - do i like the buzz from these near misses? How likely am I to get hurt? What are the alternatives? What is the impact of not cycling on my health and frame of mind at work and at home? What can I do to minimise the harm if I am going to continue to cycle?

And it is that process of knowing why we do things and whether we like the buzz or not, identifying and assessing the risks, and then finding ways to manage them that we must teach children and young people - from crossing the road, to jumping out of an aeroplane, to having sex - the process of identifying, assessing and managing risk is the same - and we continue to do young people a disservice if we focus on risk taking behaviours without teach them this formula and provide structured opportunities for them to think about their own buzz and how that influences their risk taking behaviours as well as develop the skills to think through risk, including at the times when they are experiencing the fear or a buzz.

Friday, 11 June 2010

FPA wins charity award

I am delighted that FPA won the disability category at the Charity Awards last night for their ground breaking CD Rom 'All About Us' for people with learning disabilities. All About Us was developed in Northern Ireland, who have really pioneered excellence work in disability and sexuality this is a fantastic recognition of the outstanding work.

You can find out more about the awards at www.charityawards.co.uk or about the work at www.fpa.org.uk

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Interesting reading

I have just finished reading two books that are interesting reads;

The biography of Harvey Milk - the first gay politician in San Francisco and 'Castro area revolutionary' who was murdered by a colleague in 1978 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvey_Milk)

As many areas of the world get real to the rights of gay people, we do well to remember that in some countries people are still sent to prison, as the couple were just this month in Malawi and we cannot be complacent waiting for someone else to fight on their behalf - it is the responsibility of all of us to stand up for their rights in whatever way we can. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/18/malawi-gay-couple-jailed

I have also just finished reading Impossible Motherhood - testimony of an abortion addict by Irene Vilar. It is a brave book which challenged some of my thinking and understanding in a number of ways. I recommend it.

Finally, see the interview with Sam Roddick in the Observer on Sunday http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/23/sam-roddick-coco-de-mer
I am delighted that Brook and our team of young volunteers are working with Sam and her colleagues to enable young people to enjoy their sexuality without harm. Sam talks about consent being at the Centre of a truly sexually liberated society and I completely agree that consent, learning that you have the right to consent which means saying no is central to young people's development. Our annual conference on 3rd March 2011 - Say yes, say no, say maybe - focuses on consent. Visit our website (www.brook.org.uk) for further information

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

National Condom Week - AGAIN

I am starting to measure my years in how quickly national condom week comes around - this is now the fourth NCW since I have been at Brook, and it seems inconceivable that it is a year since I was setting the challenge to answer condoms to any questions you are asked, just for a laugh, and to see people's face as you do so. Over the last four years, this challenge has been met with extreme reactions - at the one end, it has been suggested I should be punched and at the other people have emailed to say it has made them laugh and the other person bemused, and others have said it stimulated some really interesting conversation. Try it and see what response you get. I take no responsibility if you get the punch.

It has been a good year for condoms the regulations were finally changed and condoms can now be advertised on TV subject to some being kept away from the under 10s and complying with strict rules on taste, decency and socially responsible advertising.

Given the changes to condom advertising, Durex, has this week launched a competition to 'create the next ad' asking people to create the next TV ad for Durex. You can find details at www.durex.co.uk/durextv

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Clint Walters 'farewell to a hero in the fight against HIV'

Clint Walters, a young man diagnosed with HIV when he was 17 years old died of a heart attack on Easter Sunday aged 31. Below is a link to an article about him and his work.

Clint was a brave and determined man who I was privileged to know over many years. He was relentless in telling me that education and services were not good enough, and I agree - too many young people do not know enough about HIV infection, how to protect themselves, and too many young people don't know where, or are scared to get tested, and too many young people who are diagnosed with HIV are frightened, isolated and hurt.

Clint and I didn't always agree what good enough would look like, but that is irrelevant detail here. It is his passion to change attitudes towards people living with HIV and to improve services for young people with HIV that led him to spend much of his life challenging attitudes and supporting others selflessly and with boundless energy. Ultimately he was also frustrated about the services and support that are, or not available for young people that need them.

Clint's legacy must be a step change in attitudes towards young people and HIV from both professionals and young people themselves. His legacy must be our commitment to ensure children and young people get the education and support they need to protect themselves against HIV infection, that testing is free and easily accessible, and that when a young person is diagnosed with HIV they get the help and support they need.

At his memorial party reflecting on how we can all make a difference, I asked his friends and families to invest their time and support in those charities that aim to improve sexual health, prevent HIV and support those infected with HIV and to hold those same charities and the NHS to account in delivering the services and support young people need. None of us can rest until we there is a lot more progress.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Whatever happened to our hope of statutory sex and relationships education

I woke up this morning feeling perky, hopeful that sex and relationships education would make it through the 'legislative wash up' and become statutory in all state funded schools. So imagine my disdain and concern when I found out earlier today the clauses to make sex and relationships education statutory in the Children, Schools and Families Bill have been dropped over the parental right of withdrawal.

I was hopeful with good cause I think - we have loads of evidence about the importance of SRE in preventing teenage pregnancy and improving young lives and there is a strong broad consensus amongst children, parents and professionals that it is important in helping keep children safe from harm.

This section of the Children, Schools and Families Bill must not be allowed to fall at the last hurdle. Regardless of the politics we must hang our heads in shame if we let down another generation of children and young people by failing to ensure sex and relationships education is statutory in every school.

It is inconceivable that more young people could be allowed to experience the shame, fear and embarrassment about sex and their bodies that we see at Brook clinics every single day. Sex and relationships education is vital to protect children and young people from harm and enables them to enjoy their relationships safely. It is right and moral that schools provide it to complement and supplement what children are taught at home or to fill the gap if they are not.

The link to Brook’s full statement is here:

Monday, 29 March 2010

Article on abortion written for Progress magazine

I recently wrote an article for Progress about abortion and that there are really good reasons for maintaining the current time limit of 24 weeks.

Every woman has the right to make informed choices about legal, safe and confidential abortion. The ability to choose legal abortion allows young women to make their own decisions about their futures, including when and whether to have children, and prevents risk to their physical and emotional health.

There is no scientific evidence to support a reduction of the 24-week time limit and reducing it would affect women at all ages of the spectrum, particularly some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged women. This may result in women being rushed into decisions about abortions or forced to continue a pregnancy against their will.

To see the full article please click here.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Launch of the Brook 100 Club

On Thursday Brook launched the Brook 100 Club, a major donor fundraising programme in the run up to our 50th Anniversary. The Brook 100 Club is for individuals who commit to donating or fundraising £1000 for Brook and we aim to have 100 members each year. The funds raised will be used to achieve three promises;

to provide sexual health and relationship information in innovative and creative ways

to identify excellent projects being carried out in local areas such as the sexual bullying project and training up staff across Brook to replicate them quickly across the country

to campaign fearlessly for improved sexual health with young people at the heart of all campaigns

The event was great fun and was hosted by Sam Roddick, creator and owner at Coco De Mer (www.coco-de-mer.com). In the introductory speeches Sam told guests of how she has been inspired from the Brook v talent volunteers - by their energy, insightfulness and passion. She reminded guests of the importance of listening to and learning from young people and supporting Brook's work because it reduces pain and increases confidence and pleasure.

Alaina one of Brook's full time young volunteers told guests that we must do more to provide information and education to young people at a younger age, at the time that is right and in ways that meet their needs. In my remarks I asked people to join Brook in changing our ridiculous culture towards sex and sexuality and that we need to brave and bold in saying enough is enough - we cannot allow another generation of young people to grow up without accurate information and a positive culture which says sex must always be consensual, based on respect and communication and between people who are able to both enjoy and take responsibility for it. The time for change is now. If you want to help us in achieving long term cultural change do find out more about or become a member of the Brook 100 Club.

If you want to become a member of the Brook 100 Club please email emily.haynes@brook.org.uk to find out more - you can also go onto our just giving site www.justgiving.com/Brook-100-Club to donate to Brook. You can also fundraise to help achieve our goal of enabling young people to enjoy their sexuality without harm. Contact Emily if you want to find out more (emily.haynes@brook.org.uk).

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

New advertising codes and condom advertising

It was great to see the announcement yesterday by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) launching new UK Advertising Codes.

One of the key changes was around the relaxing of the watershed on condom advertising.

The launch of the new codes followed a public consultation to which Brook contributed and young people working with Brook were also involved in work through the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV (SHIAG).

SHIAG challenged the guidance on condom advertising and restrictions on showing a condom out of its wrapper. The group was concerned there is still embarrassment around condoms, which inhibits the normalisation of condom use, and called for the guidance to be reviewed.

A survey carried out by young people at Brook in 2007 showed that most young people (91 per cent) were unaware that guidance exists prohibiting showing unwrapped condoms on television and many (90 per cent) thought that this was wrong. 81 per cent felt that allowing condoms and condom use to be shown in advertisements and programmes would encourage young people who were sexually active to use condoms.

In addition young people thought that condoms should be shown on TV at peak times but also that this should be scheduled sensitively and appropriately. The research found that putting information into adverts round peak-time viewing for teenagers – for instance Coronation Street, Hollyoaks and Skins – or feeding it into the story line would hit the target audience and avoid offence.

Relaxing the rules around advertising condoms would normalise condom use and make young people feel more positive and confident about using them and carrying them.

Improving knowledge about contraception is key to reducing unplanned pregnancy and rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – condoms protect against both.

PJ, one of Brook’s young volunteers who was involved in the work through SHIAG, said: “It was great to be involved in the process – this is something that is aimed at and will benefit other young people so it was good to be able to input my ideas.”

The new Codes will come into force on 1 September 2010.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Brook Awards

Last night we held our third annual awards dinner to celebrate the outstanding work young people and professionals are doing to improve the lives of young people all over the UK. This took place after our conference which focused on gender.

All the shortlisted nominees deserve the recognition, congratulation, applause and cheers they received last night, and special congratulations to the winners. The award winners are:
•UK sexual health professional of the year – Gail McVicar, Swindon Borough Council
•UK sexual health project of the year – In Touch, Leonard Cheshire Disability
•Young person of the year – James Langley, Terrence Higgins Trust Young Leaders programme
•Brook employee of the year – Arlene McLaren, Brook Northern Ireland
•Brook innovation of the year – Brook Blackburn with Darwen, Engage Project. This award was voted for on the night.

Thank you to Carrie Quinlan for hosting the evening, Tracey Cox, Jasmine Lowson, Zoe Margolis and Matt Rawle, our Brook ambassadors for presenting the awards and contributing so brilliantly to the evening. Also thank you to Lizzie Emeh who performed tracks from her fantastic new album, Loud and Proud.

I was delighted to see such a high standard of nominations showing the fantastic work that people are doing for young people all over the country every day.

The judging panel also included many key figures working in sexual health as well as young people and I would like to thank all those involved.

And thank you to my team and the conference organisers, NSA, who made the event run smoothly - you were brilliant. Final thank you to our sponsors and supporters.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

A day to be pleased with

Today the Office for National Statistics released the latest teenage pregnancy data for 2008 and Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, announced the continuation of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy in England.

Since 1998 teenage pregnancy rates for under 18s have reduced by 13.3% to 40.4 per 1,000 for 2008. This is good news and we now need to continue doing what we know works; improving access to sexual health services, good quality sex and relationships education in school and the community and supporting parents to talk to their children about relationships.

I really welcome the refresh of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy and the renewed commitment to young people’s sexual health. There is some excellent work taking place in some areas and what we need to do now is to learn from those areas who have seen the biggest decreases and make that excellent work the standard for all teenage pregnancy programmes.

Yesterday the Children, Schools and Families Bill which includes making Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Education statutory completed its report stage and third reading in the House of Commons.

We eagerly await its progress through the House of Lords and the Bill receiving Royal Assent before it becomes law. Making PSHE Education statutory will provide a clear framework and ensure that it will be inclusive of every child and young person combining legal/civil rights, health, and cultural and religious perspectives.

Every day at Brook we see young people whose education about relationships and sex has not been good enough. For too long young people have been saying that the sex education they receive is too little, too late and too biological because schools are only required to teach what is in the science curriculum. Statutory PSHE will mean that all children and young people will receive the education and information they are entitled to.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Statutory PSHE Education

Children and young people want it, most parents want it and in October 2008 at long last this government showed leadership on it by announcing the intention to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education statutory. For many of us campaigning with and for children and young people this signalled the end of an era. The door was open. It was going to happen. Albeit slightly slower than expected. And as we gallop towards a general election with a short parliamentary session, I believe the door is still open.

Has the amendment laid down by Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, that provides school with right to teach PSHE Education in line with their religious character really provided an opt out for faith schools?

Was the amendment necessary? Not in my view. Is the amendment devastating? Probably not as long as schools know what they must deliver. Will it reassure some? Probably.

It is always important to know what you are arguing about. It seems to me that PSHE Education is becoming a battleground for age old arguments about state aided 'faith based schools'. Regardless of the school, PSHE Education has to be as good as it can be, and that is what this legislation must seek to ensure.

Legislating for Statutory PSHE Education is morally and socially right. It should have happened at least five years ago and must get through now. If it gets through, it will bring about systemic change and real, lasting benefit to children and young people in line with the Every Child Matters agenda. Let's keep our eyes and our minds on the big prize, statutory PSHE that will help drive standards up. This legislation, with all its limitations is worth our support.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

'Mis-selling sex': calling for collaboration between broadcasters, producers and organisations like Brook

Soap operas have long been the stimulus for family conversations about sex and sexuality and bringing socially taboo issues onto our screens and into our homes. If you just think about Eastenders over the years, I can remember Michelle's teenage pregnancy, Tony and Simon's teenage kiss and more recently Peter and Lauren in EastEnders talking about sex responsibly, getting condoms and then deciding to wait.

Brook has been working with DH and DCSF following some research called Mis selling sex which analysed the sexual content of TV programmes, and showed that of all the sexual content on the programmes audited, only 7% had safer sex messages.

First and foremost of course TV is about entertainment it is also the place that over 40% of young people say they get information about sex and relationships. At Brook we have direct contact with over 1500 young people every day. We know the power of TV in generating discussion amongst peers, and we believe more can be done to include 'reference to contraception and condoms to build on the excellent 'sex' story lines that already exist.

This is absolutely not about wanting regulation or guidance. It is about voluntary collaboration between TV broadcasters and producers and organisations like Brook who can provide information, advice and support so the stories are realistic and factually accurate - we know when it works it can be incredibly powerful and I am looking forward to the discussions with broadcasters and producers in the coming weeks.

Teenage girls in crisis?

Gender it seems is making the news again. At last. For far too long we have stopped talking about it in public spaces.

There is a really interesting article in the Observer today (I tried to get the link for this blog, but doing this via phone and it won't work for me) called Are Britain's teenage girls really in crisis? It is well worth reading as I am sure the book Living Dolls: the return of sexism by Natasha Walter will be too. The article concludes with the paragraph;

'The message is that for modern teeange girls the encouragement to do better, look better and have more has become almost unbearable. They need help and they need it urgently - not only for themselves but for the next generation, whose mothers they will be'.

And I agree with much of the sentiment in the article. And we have to be really clear here, the arguments about whether teenage girls are the most vulnerable group in society need to be heard. But for me, what i hear from young people and staff at Brook is that it is gender - growing up as a boy, or a girl and what that means that we have to address. We have to really think about what we are teaching boys and girls, and what boys and girls are learning about themselves, their bodies, their aspirations and about sex. And unless we do so we will miss the point in the development and implementation of youth policy.

That is why Brook's conference this year is on gender - at this conference we will premier a film about gender made by young people who work at Brook and have a real opportunity to spend quality time focusing on how we put gender back central stage in a way that is relevant and meaningful for this century. You can see the trailer for the film on You Tube by searching for Brook Gender 2010 and you can find out more about the conference by visiting brook.org.uk

Tuesday, 9 February 2010


Over the last fifteen years or so I have seen some pretty grim use of statistics and reporting about sex and relationships education, the age of consent, youth sexuality and sexual health services. But over the past couple of days even I have said Wow this reporting of teenage pregnancy and the blatant use of shock tactics to overstate the problem of teenage pregnancy in this country is grim.

The government released, to The Sun, following an Freedom Of Information request, figures about the rates of pregnancy amongst 10-15 year olds between 2000 and 2007. The resulting headline focussed on the youngest children about whom data was released. Leaving aside for a minute the fact that the figures were mangled and presented an extremely inaccurate picture, I ask you to consider what anyone could hope to gain from a story about pregnant 10 year olds.

Of course it is not acceptable that even a single 10 year old has ever become pregnant. No sensible child, young person or adult wants that. It is particularly terrible because we are not talking about teenage pregnancy, ‘over sexualised’ children, or any other ‘Broken Britain’ indicator. We are talking about children who have been abused.

The abuse of children has been used to score a cheap point about teenage pregnancy rates and the government policy on teenage pregnancy. And be in no doubt that some journalists want to track down some of these children. Brook’s press office received calls yesterday asking our help in providing ‘case studies’ of pregnant 10 year olds.

This deliberate misrepresentation of facts, the sensationalising of the impact of sex and relationships education and misreporting of the truth about teenage pregnancy creates fear and misunderstanding that permeates throughout society and fails to protect children and young people. Brook carried out some research last year which showed that 95% of us seriously overestimate the numbers of young people who become pregnant. Small wonder, when some part of the media continue to insist on inaccurate scaremongering fronted as public interest journalism.

And for the record, most young people under the age of 16 do not have sex and our teenage conception rates have, overall, decreased by 10.5% since 1998. Higher numbers of young people having an abortion if they get pregnant, which means that overall we have about a 24% reduction in teenage births in England.

We need to build on this success and ensure that young people are only having sex when they are able to consent, enjoy and take responsibility for it, and we need to ensure that young people are able to use contraceptive services and contraception effectively when they do have sex.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

The power of young voice

Last Thursday the Department of Health held a consultative conference on the future direction of sexual health policy - 'sexual health - worth thinking about'.

One of our young volunteers was invited to be on the panel of speakers at the conference. I was unable to attend the conference in the morning as I was at the NICE meeting on Personal, Social and Health Education. However, as soon as I arrived people started telling me what a brilliant job she had done. Sometimes adult compliments of young people's input can feel patronising, but it was clear this was not the case from the way they talked specifically about what she had said, not just that she had said something. I felt very proud that she was able to do such a good job in front of 400 skilled professionals working in sexual health - enough to make many people quake just thinking about it!

I also felt proud of my team at the national office who have created an office environment that works for the young people so that their volunteering experience is positive and productive for them and the organisation, and enabling such a positive platform for young people to be able to find the power of their voice and their influence.

We now have 10 young people developing their own campaigning work on sexual health. They are particularly interested in pressures. Over the coming months they are going to be taking their ideas and work out with the aim of influencing young people and the adults who work with them. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Chlamydia screening Programme is a central plank in improving young people's sexual health

Today the Committee of Public Accounts Select Committee publish their report, Young people’s sexual health: the National Chlamydia Screening Programme. In response I have issued the following statement;

“There has been duplication of effort. The programme has not always been as efficient or effective as possible. It was clear from the National Audit Office report there is much to learn and much to do. The good news is that much is already underway to make improvements.

We support the PAC conclusion that better commissioning must take place. We must develop services that make sense for young people and get the best value for each pound spent. As such a national online testing service for all, regardless of where they live, should be commissioned as a matter of urgency.

We cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. The National Chlamydia Screening Programme must continue so we can find and treat infections that would otherwise have gone undiagnosed. The programme is one plank, along with the teenage pregnancy strategy that will ensure continuing improvements in young people’s sexual health.'

The urgent thing now is to learn from history, from what has worked and from what has not worked to ensure the right balance of locally driven and locally determined responses, with national direction to reduce effort and duplication, ensure services are relevant and make sense to young people and ensure best value for money. Steps have already been taken by DH and NSCP to address many of the issues the PAC report raised and I look forward to doing all I can to help them.

Brook in Milton Keynes is 20 years old

Today was a very proud day for Brook. The Brook service in Milton Keynes was 20 years old and today they opened new premises. As I arrived for the launch, my first thought was wow - it was a bright entrance and Brook's logo proudly across the entrance. The building is not on the high street, and it is not down a back alley either. It seemed to be just the right balance - absolutely clear to young people that we respect their desire for somewhere discreet AND that sex is not something dirty and round the back, and sexual health services are there as an important part of the community.

I was asked to speak at the launch and as I was preparing to do so, I was remembering my early experiences of Brook at Milton Keynes over the last ten or fifteen years. My first was meeting one of Milton Keynes' earliest staff Sue on a training course when I had just started working with young people in sexual health. I had never heard anyone talk so passionately, fondly and warmly about young people before. I remember it now so clearly. It made a real impact. And it is what i have learnt over the past three years makes Brook people special in my eyes, and more importantly in the eyes of the hundreds of young people who trust Brook staff day in day out to help them, advise them and support them. The magic ingredient is genuine care.
Then as assessor for Milton Keynes Healthy Schools Programme I saw tremendous partnership working between Brook, Relate and Healthy Schools to get sex and relationships education on the agenda in schools. Respectful partnership working using the skills of the different partners to best effect. And then between appointment and start date I met my Chair for champagne (and lunch). He told me I needed to talk to Jackie because she was running an excellent service, and i needed to visit Brook in Milton Keynes because they had a model that was replicable and needed replicating. Lots. And over the last three and a half years I have seen excellent replicable work being done with boys, in c card scheme, in schools and healthy schools, in colleges, with the chlamydia screening programme and much much more within Milton Keynes. And as evidence of that brilliance, there were so many people from MK at the launch today, partners, stakeholders and supporters from both the statutory and voluntary sector. And over the last two years Brook in Milton Keynes has become Brook East of England as they have won contracts and set up services in Luton and Bedfordshire.

Back to the building, one of the things that really bothers me about many health service buildings is they are a bit dank and dingy, and in need of a bit of health promotion themselves. And in an increasingly consumerist society where you go to shops and get an experience rather than just a clothes rail, we need to make sure that health levels up to fashion or the best computer game store, otherwise we send a message, that four stripes on your shoe, or getting the new X box is more valuable than health, and that to me is a wrong message to give. And it is a message that this building, 624 South Fifth Street certainly isn't going to give young people.

As I said in my speech at the launch, I have no idea exactly who the people were involved in making this building happen, but it was a 7 year journey to get to there, and on behalf of all the young people who have used and will continue to use Brook's services in Milton Keynes thank you to each and every one of them.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Young mums speak out

A group of young mums challenge the stereopypes and are taking their message to the Prime Minister this week.

An article in the Independent on Sunday reports....


Thursday, 14 January 2010

Sexual violence, trafficking and rape

I have just watched some of Stag Weekends: the Dirty Secrets and if you didn't catch it I recommend watching it on BBC iPlayer. I thought Simon Boazman, the journalist investigating did a really good job - he remained calm, compassionate and clear, as well as fantastically human - as he interviewed a range of people including a woman who had been trafficked and forced into the sex trade, and a pimp. Uncomfortable viewing, but not something any of us can afford to stick our heads in the sand about.

The challenge for many of us is recognising this goes on, and not thinking about exploitation and trafficking as something that happens to others. Sexual exploitation is real in the UK. Each year far too many girls and boys are sexually exploited and forced into prostitution. Today Brook ran a training course for professionals called TEASE - telling everyone about sexual exploitation - based on the brilliant work done by Brook in Blackburn to address sexual exploitation.

Several years ago, Barnardos produced a pack for working with young people about sexual exploitation called 'things we don't talk about'. Today on the tube I noticed a new campaign from the NHS The Havens about rape. The advert pictures a young woman wearing a t-shirt saying wake up to rape and then the text - Michelle tells her friends everything, but explaining to them that she was raped isn't something she feels comfortable about.

For far too long, we have stuck our collective head in the sand about sexual violence. Thankfully programmes like this, done well, start the conversations.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

For Rari, or For me - the importance of clear communication

Over Christmas I watched a couple of You've Been Framed episodes - for me there is a guilty pleasure in a) having time to watch whatever is on the TV without having to worry about time and b) watching the everyday mishaps of people's lives, with the clear knowledge that a fall on the bum may have hurt at the time but was unlikely to have long lasting consequences because the video has been sent in for other people's viewing.

There was one programme which profiled children's adventures. Amongst many funny head butting birthday cakes, being frightened by talking Christmas tress and mowing down the Christmas tree with the life size toy care, there were two particular clips which highlighted the importance of good communication.

The first was the birthday party of a girl still in a highchair so 2 - 3 years old. The family were singing happy birthday to you and she got quite upset and indignant - NO! Happy Birthday to me, happy birthday to me. The adults continued with Happy Birthday to you. Probably a lesson for another day - at that point in time the birthday would have been enjoyed more had they starting singing happy birthday to me. Or indeed pointing at the girl if they were going to continue with singing 'happy birthday to you'. Somehow the communication needed to change for her to feel happy and enjoy the moment.

The second, really made me laugh when the boy opened a toy car and someone said is that a Ferrari and the boy shouted no it is For me. Maybe there is a Rari in their family and in any case the boy heard its For Rari.

Both highlight that what is said doesn't have to be wrong to be misunderstood or problematic. And sometimes when I train professionals they will say well I told them the truth, I used the right words and pass the problem of miscommunication onto the young person. Communication is a two way thing, and when we are working in any professional role, but particularly with young people, it is our responsibility to ensure we are understood, and that we understand.

Of course, nothing I have said is new, but to communicate effectively we must recognise that the way that young people are accessing information and communicating with each other is changing (as indeed it is for all of us - how many managers would have baulked at the idea of being told a member of their team is sick by text 5 years ago, but accept it now; and how many of you will now say can you give me a few bullet points, sometimes to explain quite complex issues?).

So, when texting and social networking is common, many professionals have 10 minutes for a consultation with (young) people, and the world can be reduced into bullet points, when it comes to young people's sexual health only good communication that both parties understand will cut the mustard.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Rhiannon Holder gets MBE

Rhiannon Holder got a well deserved MBE in the Queens New Years Honours list. Rhiannon is a young woman aged 22 who works for Brook in Bristol, and until recently worked with me as a member of the Independent Advisory Group on Teenage Pregnancy.

Her MBE was awarded for services to young people's healthcare. I am delighted that her work has been recognised for a number of reasons;

1) because Rhiannon really deserved it - she is talented, inspired and inspiring and shows exceptional compassion, wisdom and tells it as it is, nicely.
2) because it is great that the issue of young people's healthcare is recognised as important in this way
3) because it is absolutely right that young people should be honoured. Too often honours are awarded when many many years of service have been accumulated. And whilst this is right to a point, rewarding young people who have shown exceptional talent and motivation relatively early in their career can inspire them and others around them to become even more brilliant, and become the next generation of innovators, leaders and changemakers.

Well done Rhiannon. It is January, so detox for me at the moment, but I will raise my fizzy water for you tonight.