Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Stand up for women's right to choose

Brook knows from our long history of providing pregnancy choices counselling that when a young woman finds out she is pregnant she needs support from a highly skilled professional who provides a safe space where she can understand her choices fully, and enables her to make her own decisions about whether or not to continue the pregnancy without fear of judgement or reprise. That is, I believe the right of any (young) woman who wants counselling.

This counselling for women (who may or may not go on to have an abortion) is in the news because the Health and Social Care Bill is before Parliament next week. If successful an amendment to the Bill, laid down by Frank Field and Nadine Dorries, would stop those who provide abortion such as BPAS and Marie Stopes to provide that counselling. This is an unnecessary and unhelpful amendment based on the premise that those who provide abortions are driven by profit - Hmm - interesting they are non profits. And they are regulated by Care Quality Commission.

Field said on Newsnight last night that he had no evidence of 'wrong doing'. He went on to say there was no evidence of mis-selling pensions until it was investigated. As Zoe Williams writing in the Guardian today said 'then lets investigate' instead of aiming to use backstreet politics to create policy and legislation based on myth, misinformation and lies.

I won't rehearse those myths and lies here, but this amendment is dangerous. It is dangerous for a number of reasons. Firstly it is not based on science nor is there evidence of a problem that needs fixing. Secondly stopping those who provide abortions will delay and block access - this still happens too much anyway. We really don't need more delays and blocks in the system. Those distressed young women who contact Brook because they have been blocked or experienced unbearable delays bear witness to that. And it is dangerous because the motivation of some organisations who currently provide counselling and seek to provide more 'independent counselling' is to frighten and scare women away from abortion thus restricting their right to choose (see Education for Choice mystery shopping report for more information

Finally it is dangerous because abortion law and policy cannot be driven by anything other than science. That is wrong. Other attacks such as the one on the time limit can only have legs if abortion law becomes separated from science.

Those (young) women faced with a decision to make about whether to continue with her pregnancy WANTING counselling deserve the highest standard counselling which is non-judgemental, non-directive and impartial. Full stop. This amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill will not take us closer to that goal. I urge you to write to your MP NOW and tell them you oppose the proposed changes to pregnancy choices counselling. Follow this link to FPA's website and find out how

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Chlamydia screening - tell us what you think

If you are under 25, or work with people under 25 Brook needs your help! We have been commissioned by the National Chlamydia Screening Programme to seek young people's views on chlamydia screening. This is an important opportunity to ensure young people's views are heard in the next phase of development - so if you are under 25 please click on the link below and get your voices heard, and if you work with young people please can you disseminate this as far and wide as you can visit the Brook website or go straight to the survey here

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Looking in and beyond the Brook gates

Over recent weeks I have been travelling around the country visiting Brook services and meeting/seeing again the Brook staff teams working across Brook's clinical and support services, education and our advocacy and lobbying work. It is a true pleasure spending time with my colleagues who are working with young people day in day out; and from each and every session I have left energised, inspired by their creativity and passion, and with further clear ideas about what they want from their Chief Executive and their experience of the new Brook organisation.

As one person said, 'I come to work each day not quite knowing what I am going to find, and I always go home knowing that if I have helped at least one young person even just a little bit then it has been a good day'. And this sentiment was echoed often and I was particularly struck by one colleague who said 'in my work I do a lot of work with young women - lots of them are being hurt or not enjoying their relationships and through the work we do I try to help them see that is not good enough for them and they deserve me, and when someone comes back and says I've had enough, or I tried this instead today and it worked, that gives me a real buzz.'

Meanwhile in the national team in Kentish Town our cohort 3 volunteers left us last week - this cohort devised and developed the sex: positive campaign and worked hard and tirelessly to convince many stakeholders of its value. I am immensely proud of their work, and of their individual and group achievements. They brought their own buzz into the office and whilst we will miss them, of course most of all we wish them well and welcome the new volunteers working in both our Kentish Town and Oldham offices.

Whilst spending my hours on the train I am trying to both keep away from too many sandwiches, and keep on top of the policy documents and what is happening. Most notably Positive for Youth, and the PSHE Education review, both from Department for Education.

Positive for Youth is important because it sets the framework for a positive approach to working with young people. There is much to be liked about the tone and content of some of the discussion papers, and I am delighted the health and well being paper emphasises the importance of sex and relationships education and services, and highlights the Brook @besexpositive campaign ( Like many others I am keen to really understand further how this translates to action and dovetails with other initiatives.

The PSHE review was launched by DfE at the end of July and this is an important opportunity to influence the future of PSHE Education including sex and relationships education. In the scope of the document it states that sex education is statutory and that schools must have regard for the sex and relationship education guidance therefore no further changes are needed to legislation. It is absolutely true science contains some 'sex education' and that 'secondary schools must provide a programme which includes as a minimum teaching about STDs including HIV and AIDS' and it is true they must have regard to the sex and relationships education guidance. The unspoken bit here though is they must pay regard to the guidance IF they deliver SRE outside of the statutory minimum which we know so many many schools don't. And young people tell us they suffer from poor quality SRE as a result.

Brook is also concerned the review document does not include consideration of withdrawing the parental right of withdrawal. The UK is signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and there is evidence of this government listening to young people - so I fail to understand a) how we will ensure the entitlement of all children and young people and b) why when there are so many young people telling us their sex and relationships education is not good enough decade after decade, and there is a huge majority consensus from parents and professionals about the need for SRE that it continues to be played a curriculum subject that gets politicised. Only when it becomes as normal and everyday as maths and english will children and young people get the education about relationships, emotions, sexuality and sex education they want and deserve to help them navigate their way through the complexity of the 21st Century.

We will be working with FPA to prepare a full submission to the PSHE Education Review consultation.

And whilst the Positive for Youth discussion papers and the PSHE Education review are in the public domain, we also know that proposals are being considered with regard provision of pregnancy choices counselling, and whether abortion providers will be able to provide this counselling in the future. You can see Brook and FPA briefing and advice about what you can do to let your views be known here

Finally in the Westminster village, we await the Lords Select Committee report on HIV in early September which I am hopeful will provide strong support for improving the quality and quantity of SRE.

Tonight I am going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which I am looking forward to, and am taking the opportunity to visit the new integrated sexual health service recently launched in Edinburgh. To pack my shorts or my raincoat was a dilemma last night, but this morning I think it is definitely raincoat.

Have you pledged to be sex: positive? Its free, its easy and it takes two minutes, just click here