Friday, 23 January 2009

Brook’s strategic framework

I am immensely proud of our new strategic framework for 2009 – 2019 which we have launched this week – both the outcome (you can find the document at and the process that we went through. As a network, with huge diversity in the shape and size of service provision we worked hard, listened hard and consulted hard to define our core business and to establish our mission, vision, values and strategic goals.

It is an ambitious framework - we have committed to double our reach and impact over the next decade, involve young people in all of our work, continually strengthen and improve our practice, provide value for money as well as quantify and demonstrate our impact.

Brook is an exciting place to work, made enjoyable by the creativity, the passion and the commitment of a wide group of staff, volunteers and trustees and the very real difference we make to the lives of the 1500 young people we see every day.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Sex and relationships education – the myth makers continue their work

I have been travelling around the country in the last week and I have heard again at least three times about the breakdown of morality amongst young people and that sex and relationships education is the cause.

So the myth makers continue their work - pronouncing that levels of sexual activity have gone up amongst young people, and that sex and relationships education is the reason behind this increase.

Their premise is that sex and relationships education has been around for over 40 years now, and this government has ploughed more money into this failed approach – failure confirmed apparently by our declining teenage pregnancy rates.

This is, of course, utter nonsense. We don’t have the evidence about levels of sexual activity, and the age of first sex remains broadly similar (the biggest decrease in age, was post war Britain). And sex and relationships education is still not universally established in schools or the community – 22,000 young people recently reported that their SRE is still not good enough.  This finding reinforces yet again what we have known for decades.

So join me in eradicating the myths and replace them with facts –

Sex and relationships education is still not universally established in schools – many children and young people get excellent sex and relationships education, and many more get poor, mediocre or just about good enough.

Teenage pregnancy rates are the lowest they have been for twenty years - areas that have strong programmes of sex and relationships education, coupled with good, visible young people’s contraceptive services and supported by an effective youth service continue to see the biggest decreases in teenage pregnancy rates.

If 25% of young people have sex before the age of 16, that means 75% do not – surely that is worth celebrating and acknowledging so we help create a social norm that supports young people in their choices about sex.

And anyway, seems to me many of the same myth makers who want to abolish sex and relationships education haven't spoken to many children and young people for a long time. Some of them also believe smacking children is a good idea and a parents right.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Symposium on engaging boys and young men - Rio de Janeiro

There is a global symposium on engaging boys and young men March 30th - April 3rd.  There is a focus on sexual health and the organisers are calling for abstracts.  You can find out more about the symposium at 

You can apply to make a presentation, host a booth in the global village, display a poster or attend as a conference delegate - 15th january is the deadline for applications for presentations, global village and poster presentations.  Registrations close February 28, 2009.

Gary Barker, from Promundo Institute, one of the organising committee for this symposium spoke at Brook's annual conference - good sex, safe sex - last year about programme H, a programme working with young men in Brazil.  The work was inspiring and I am sure if you have the time and resources to go to this conference, it would be equally so.   

Saturday, 10 January 2009

my week of name calling and violence

Having watched panorama about bullying this week I have just been called a 'batty boy' by two lads in the local Sainsburys!  It took me a while to work out why they were chuntering on, and then I realised they were talking about my footwear.   Apparently the shoes I was wearing can determine my sexual orientation.  

I was also at the train station yesterday and I could hear a woman screaming.  She was being held by a man, who I assume was her partner and he wouldn't let her go.  In a brilliant show of human solidarity the two hundred or so people who could also hear it, put their heads down and looked the other way.   I eventually found a community police officer by which time they had moved on.  It is always horrible to witness violence, and particularly when it is clearly within a domestic relationship.  I don't think I could have helped by intervening myself - it would probably have made the situation worse and at the same time I wish I could have found security or the police sooner.  I hope she is ok. 

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Have fun, be careful 2009

We have launched a new poster and postcard campaign this week - have fun, be careful! is the second in the campaign series aimed at raising awareness about the increased risk of pregnancy over Christmas and New Year.   In December and January over each of the last five years there has been a peak in teenage conception rates. 

You can see the image and find out more at 

Monday, 5 January 2009

Sexual bullying - at last we are talking about it

Gay, queer, slut, slag, freak, virgin, lesbo, frigid - names that will make too many of us whince as we remember hearing the names, being called them or calling someone else them.  

I have just watched panorama on sexual bullying. At long long last we are talking publicly about sexual bullying.   I was closely involved in the anti-bullying agenda a couple of years ago with the anti-bullying alliance.  When I first started learning about bullying in schools, I was surprised at how much denial there was about the level, extent and diversity of bullying -bullying that started early in primary school and for some young people continued all the way through their education. 

As a sex educator I have worked in a whole range of settings including schools, youth service and pupil referral units I have talked with a lot of young people about unwanted attention and touching, name calling - slag, slut, gay, lesbo, virgin.  Girls being teased about their periods, about wearing a bra, about not wearing a bra.  Boys and girls being teased about having had sex, about not having had sex.   Research about gay boys and girls by Stonewall - Queer Bashing - and about girls and their experiences of menstruation in school - It's Time to Grow Up amongst other research are testament that sexual bullying really isn't a new phenomena.   

I was so pleased that Michelle Elliot said Kidscape now gets 2 or 3 calls a week, up from 2 or 3 a year, not because this is an indicator that sexual bullying is increasing, but conversely I believe because it is showing us that young people and children are feeling more able to name it and ask for help.  

As professionals, friends and family members we must be really vigilant about any sort of bullying - we know it is difficult for children and young people to tell someone they are being bullied.   We also need to remember that children have always said, 'i'll show you mine, if you show me yours'.  There is a distinct difference between normal healthy sexual development and children's curiosity about their bodies and sexual bullying in all its forms.

In a climate that is increasingly fearful of youth, sexual bullying is not yet another example of the moral breakdown of society.  It is decades old.  What is new is the fact that children, parents, carers and professionals are talking about it.   This is a positive response to an age old problem that many of us have memories and stories to prove.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

You think they won't tell anyone.....

You think they won't tell anyone - well you hope they won't anyway - this is a quote from a young person over a decade ago about confidentiality.  And the questions young people ask at Brook are still the same now - they think and they hope, and because they don't know they need constant reassurance. 

Professionals in health, education, the youth service and social care always have questions and need reassurance about the law and policy regarding confidential advice and support.  Brook has pioneered and campaigned for young people's right to confidential services, and provided practical advice, training and support for professionals for over 40 years.  We continue to do so. 

Each year Brook holds a conference focusing on a current theme that is central to improving young people's sexual health.  On March 5th this year our conference is focusing on Safeguarding young people's right to confidentiality and I am excited about it.  Chaired by Polly Toynbee, with presentations, workshops and opportunities for discussion with experts working on the ground, in policy, politics and research including Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights organisation, Liberty and Anne Milton shadow minister for health.  I hope you will join us.  Further details can be found at  

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Well done Nick Partridge

There are some extraordinary markers of social change which must not go unnoticed.  This New Years Honours list recognised the work of Nick Partridge, Chief Executive of Terence Higgins Trust with a knighthood.  This recognition is one of those markers.  However much we know still needs to be done to improve our cultural attitudes and approach to sex, sexuality and sexual health including contraception and HIV, Nick's well deserved knighthood reflects how much progress has been made in bringing sexual health and HIV into the mainstream.  I am delighted for Nick, for THT and for everyone working in sexual health.  It is truly brilliant.