Tuesday, 30 December 2014

As 2014 comes to an end my ten lessons for 2015

For the last few years I have done my own partial and subjective review of the year as it relates to young people, sexual health and well being. This year that feels like an unhelpful and almost impossible task – impossible because operating in the context of localism means it is rather difficult to state whether there is progress or otherwise so instead here are ten things I believe we must keep front of mind as we move into 2015. 

2014 has been an interesting and in many ways peculiar year – on the plus side there is so much activism and noise in support of young people’s sexual rights including PSHE and services, so many reports emphasising the importance of efforts to promote positive relationships and good sexual health outcomes.  Yet again it is a year where lots of people have worked really damn hard with results at local and national level and I am grateful for all the work done by Brook teams, colleagues and collaborators which set us on course to deliver our mission of enabling young people to enjoy their sexuality without harm.

So here are my ten lessons as we move into 2015.  In no particular order I believe we must;

1.       Ensure the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child underpin and foreground all our work: this year was the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We can really helpfully talk about children and young people’s rights more and use them to frame our policy and practice and drive improvements in participation in decision making, education, protection and delivery of services.  

2.       Talk about contraception and abortion as much as we can and emphasise the importance of both in women’s lives. Both are life changing and cost effective – we know that every pound spent on contraception saves £12.50 to the health system alone. Any reductions in access to full contraceptive choice are really short sighted as they will inevitably cost more in the not very far away long term as access to contraception is key to preventing unintended pregnancies (sounds obvious I know, but seemingly not to everyone).  Its time to call time on protestors harassing women accessing abortion services and continue to drive for equity of provision across the UK

3.       Decision makers must continue to invest in HIV Prevention and Sexual Health Promotion - HIV prevention and sexual health promotion works. It is cost effective. Crossed wires or otherwise despite the threat to the HIV Prevention England budget we have, for now, had reassurance from Minister for Public Health that the national HIV Prevention England budget will be protected. There are lots of reasons that funding should never have been in doubt. The fact that HIV infections have almost doubled amongst young gay men over the last 10 years is one of those. It is appalling and an urgent reminder that we must renew our prevention efforts.

4.       Put into practice our knowledge about how to identify, assess and prevent Child Sexual Exploitation - the increasing focus on Child Sexual Exploitation is really important and we must do all that we can to ensure this particular form of sexual abuse is eradicated. We have so much evidence about what places young people at risk of CSE and we must use that to inform the design of mainstream and targeted education and other health services.

5.       Stand firm together and insist that government make Personal, Social and Health Education statutory in 2015 – Brook, the Sex Education Forum and the PSHE Association and many others have demonstrated the strength of professional opinion (almost every relevant report and every credible body called for statutory PSHE in 2014) and public support (almost 9/10 parents showed support for statutory PSHE) for statutory PSHE.  Remarkable then that government has not yet taken this advice and still hasn’t committed to make PSHE a statutory part of the curriculum in schools so all children and young people learn the foundations about relationships, sex and human sexuality. Next year government simply has to catch up with public opinion, make PSHE a statutory part of the curriculum so organisations with limited resources can stop trying to influence government to make the right decisions and get on with the real job – helping parents and schools deliver high quality PSHE.

6.       Find ways to work with the new accountability frameworks: I was always a fan of national targets – taken with a healthy dose of scepticism, common sense and professional accountability they drove many improvements in sexual health at local level as seen with the 48 Hour Waiting Time for GUM and the Teenage Pregnancy targets. Recognising the challenges that are emerging in the context of localism the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health set up a much needed inquiry into accountability for sexual and reproductive health outcomes.  I look forward to the report which I hope will shine a light on the challenges and identify some solutions which can be easily implemented.

7.       Listen to young people and involve them in everything we do: in November young people told the board of Brook that they want high quality SRE, online and face to face services they trust and feel confident accessing, and parents to be trained to talk openly about relationships and sexuality. They weren’t that interested in how we make it happen and believed that if as a society we decide it is important we will find ways to make it happen. It is refreshing having young people present in more policy meetings because they cut through the professional niceties but we cannot mistake their involvement in the meetings for delivering the change they demand.

8.       Make sure that all sex that young people have is not perceived as bad sex - whilst public health and policy drivers change there remains an undercurrent and tone that all sex young people have is bad sex, which of course is simply not true.  Whilst policy changes our task remains the same: to enable young people to enjoy and take responsibility for their sexual choices and be their staunch advocates – trusting them, empowering them and remembering what it feels like to be young. However old we are, if we remember what it feels like to be young, we will like and trust young people more which will doubtlessly improve our judgement.

9.       Use all the levers, systems and processes available to make sure we commission what we value, not value what we can measure and procure. I believe wholeheartedly that there is always room for improvement and innovation, and that we must invest in what works. Good commissioning lies at the heart of effective service delivery. There are some examples of really good commissioning, and there are too many examples where strict adherence to perceived procurement rules and an expectation to go out to market may prove to be counter productive. We must learn the lessons from those examples where commissioning and procurement practices have been financially costly, disruptive and worked against integration and against the provision of specialist services delivered by specialists. There are EU rules which enable specialist services to be commissioned in proportionate and helpful ways, and examples of best practice within Local Authorities which create exciting opportunities for change, and perhaps more radically examples where Local Authorities are doing what is necessary to protect and preserve what already works in their local sexual health economy.

10.   Trust technology as a driver for good and ensure we do not demonise it in the way we sometimes demonise young people. Technology did not invent misogyny, abuse, bullying and foul behaviour but it did open up new information channels and networks that can literally be life saving for young people. We must focus on developing positive attitudes and behaviours rather than be wrongly diverted by the medium through which those behaviours are expressed.

Brook turned 50 this year: I am grateful to everybody who has been involved in Brook’s efforts to improve the lives of young people over the last 50 years.  We have come a long way and we have a very long way still to go. Particular thanks to the staff teams, supporters, funders, donors and collaborators who have worked with us over the last year. If you, like me, believe we can do better to protect young people please do think about becoming a friend of Brook www.brook.org.uk/friends - we stand stronger and better together.

2014 – I blinked and you were gone. That is almost a wrap. Happy New Year! I hope 2015 brings you lots of contentment, learning and laughter (talking of which, have you got your ticket for our Comedy Sex night on January 10th – its hosted by Al Murray with a cracking line up and sure to get you in the mood www.brook.org.uk/events/sex-appeal-4-the-fourth-coming.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

(Young) Voices in my head

I read a lot of Doris Stokes books when I was younger and trying to work out the meaning of life -  or more specifically my life - but this blog is not about Doris.

10 days or so ago young people presented to the Brook board of trustees.  It was mind blowingly well prepared. Their message was clear and simple: We believe that all young people have a right to;
  • sex and relationships education - the type that Brook does in every school 
  • young people friendly sexual health services we can get to within an hour 
  • get access to interactive help using digital platforms 24 hours a day
  • grow up in a sex positive environment that trusts and values them whatever their sexual or gender identity, and whatever choices they choose to make, and whatever their mistakes
  • more opportunities to be involved in participation, volunteering, social action and routes into meaningful, paid employment
They also wanted Brook to train parents so parents understood young people and their sexuality more, and are therefore more confident helping young people as they grow up. 

None of this sounds unreasonable to me.  It all sits within their rights the UK has committed to as set out in the in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ratified over 25 years ago.

Since Joshua and Lisa's presentation I have constantly had their voices in my head as I discuss different ideas, consider options, strategies and plans about Brook's priorities and participate in external policy and partnership meetings.  It is a helpful discipline to hold those voices in our heads along with increasingly rigorous priority testing - is what I am doing really really going to achieve any of those goals - set to us by our beneficiaries - quickly enough. 

Its too early for new years resolutions but I have made one already - try to identify traditional processes and systems that don't bring about change - where the process gets mistaken for the task - and find other ways to deliver on the objectives set to us by young people.

Doris Stokes said it was a privilege to have voices in her head.  I agree it is a privilege to have the voices of Lisa and Josh on behalf of their peers in my head. I am holding on to them.

On a final note, our teams across the country have been doing some excellent festive health promotion and condom promotion in their waiting rooms - using different colour condom packs to build Christmas Trees and Rudolph.  Its fun and a conversation starter - and young people have responded really well to it.  Without any intention to whatsoever we seem to have upset a few anti choice people and we have been described as anti-life. An odd and inaccurate assertion.