It hardly seems conceivable, or indeed bearable that a year ago today I was frantically piecing together my fancy dress outfit for NYE. Whilst most things around us are changing rapidly, some things remain - true to form I have left it until the last minute to get my costume ready again. Ushering in the new year it is important to reflect on the successes and the disappointments of the year gone by as well as look to the opportunities and challenges of the year ahead.
Some of Brook's key successes this year have been;
Making the transition to become one unified organisation in April - the energy, commitment and determination of managers and trustees from the 16 organisations that made up the Brook Network was awesome through the review that led to a decision to change our constitution. This was critical to ensuring a smooth transition.
Any organisational change of this size requires all of us involved to look at things differently and to change our world views. And through this transitional year I have appreciated enormously the support and challenge of colleagues - trustees, managers and staff - to keep us on track and make sure that different perspectives are understood. And amongst all the internal change, business as usual has continued, continuing to secure and contracts and funding so we can provide education and services across the country to those young people who need them most.
If I was to have the last 8 months again, there would be many things I would do the same, and there would of course be things I would do differently. But what I still know to be true is that Brook people remain determinedly focused on young people - developing creative and innovative responses to their needs in the face of major internal and external change. And I appreciate this commitment and professionalism enormously.
This year we launched a formal collaboration with FPA over the year, and this partnership has allowed us to focus our resources effectively, reducing duplication and maximising our expertise. I look forward to continuing this exciting collaboration in 2012 which includes the first ever UK Sexual Health Awards on March 15th 2012 - find out more at http://www.brook.org.uk/
At the same time we have been a loud and vociferous voice in support of relationships and sex education - as part of our Sex: Positive campaign developed by our young volunteers, we launched the 21st Century SRE campaign which has already got over 2200 supporters including boyband JLS. If you haven't already you can sign up at http://www.sexpositive.org.uk/ As someone who disagrees vehemently with me about the importance of RSE said in a recent [heated] phone call, 'like what you and your organisation stand for or not I have to say your views have really been loud and clear this year.'
It was fantastic again this year to see the sustained reduction in teenage pregnancy rates when the data was published for the final year of the previous government's strategy. Evidence that we do know what works, and that if you get all the elements right including support for parents, SRE in schools, access to contraception and effective youth provision then teenage pregnancy rates can and will fall.
And given that a central plank of success in reducing teenage prenancy is good education it is so disappointing that progress on getting Relationships and Sex Education a normal everyday part of school life has slowed. The politicisation and polarisation of ideas and views about RSE have been disappointing. We know the consensus in support of RSE remains - most young people, parents and professionals support RSE, and we must ensure that we trust that consensue when some media are deliberately misleading and shrill in their approach. I was unhappy that the government launched the PSHE Education consultation with a closed mind about whether any changes are needed in legislation to improve RSE, particularly when we thought we had been so close to securing a statutory entitlement for all children and young people.
Similarly the politicisation and polemic about abortion, particularly counselling for women considering or seeking an abortion was of great concern this year. Brook of course supports any measure to improve the quality of counselling and support women facing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy face, we wait with interest to see the government proposals about counselling for women facing a pregnancy choice. But lets be very clear the rhetoric that independent abortion providers have a vested interest in 'pushing women towards abortion above all other pregnancy choices' is offensive to women's ability to make decisions and choices and quite simply untrue. I fully respect people's right to feel morally opposed to abortion. However I cannot respect any drive to limit women's choices and access to services or to influence their decision about abortion with misinformation. We know from evidence from around the world that where abortion access is denied or limited it does not stop abortion, it pushes the procedure underground, making it stigmatised and unsafe. We need only look to Northern Ireland to see how difficult antiquated laws make it for women who want to have an abortion.
As we look to 2012 we know what works and we know there is an economic case for investing in education and services that can see an immediate, and often in year, return on investment. And we know the shifting responsibility for Public Health to Local Authorities could provide new opportunities to think holistically about young people, health and well being.
But there will be challenges: history shows us that when money is tight spend often moves from prevention and early intervention to 'treatment' or unavoidable costs. As a commissioner or a finance director if you are not responsible for the 'treatment' costs and the primary job is to balance the book how do we ensure investment is maintained in the best interest of young people's sexual health? The shift of responsibility for Public Health to Local Authorities will also inevitably be challenging through the transition, and some of the sexual health expertise will undoubtedly be lost.
Sir Stephen Bubb has just sent through his top tips for ACEVO members for 2012 - they were
Look after yourself
Get your personal leadership plan nailed
Stay positive in the face of adversity
Messages that all of us, whatever our role and wherever we work, in the public, private or voluntary sector will do well to take heed of. As a colleague said last week, 2012 won't be easy for young people and sexual health. So let it be the year we look after ourselves and remain committed to our personal and professional development, stay positive in the face of challenge and consistently speak out in support of young people's sexual health and sexual rights. With ever increasing pressures on finances, major change in the health system, a small number of loud voices who oppose young people's sexual rights, and the increased determination of local priorities it will be the confidence that comes with over 45 years experience at Brook that will enable us to keep young people's sexual health on the agenda.
I am proud that i can say with complete and utter confidence that our teams across the country will strive day in day out to deliver the best quality services and education for young people; to be a loud and confident voice in support of young people's sexual rights and advocates and champions for the change we want to see.
Goodbye and thank you 2011, hello and welcome 2012. Right time to get that fancy dress sorted.
You can read more about the difference Brook makes and at http://www.brookannualreview.org.uk/
Follow Brook on twitter @brookcharity; @besexpositive or follow me @simonablake