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