Monday, 26 October 2009

sex, alcohol and racism

I have just come back from a joint meeting between the APPG on sexual health and the APPG on alcohol misuse. A specialist liver doctor explained how 20% of people have dangerous or hazardous drinking habits drink 80% of all alcohol. He also talked about research in their local area done in partnership with the sexual health service which showed that about 35% of people attending a GUM clinic to be tested for a sexually transmitted infection thought that alcohol was either definitely or possibly a cause for them taking risks with their sexual health.

Two people from Brook in Birmingham presented on their work with young people and professionals on the links between sex and alcohol. They reminded us that young people are learning about alcohol use and misuse from the adults around them; that we must be mindful that most young people do not have a serious problem with alcohol; that clinical consultations must focus on building a relationship of trust, and that this relationship of trust can only be built if we spend enough time with each individual - we cannot rush people through on a conveyer belt approach. And of course finding enough time is often one of the biggest challenges we can face as professionals.

In an engaging presentation they created a series of spoof newspaper headlines challenging some of the myths about the sexual behaviours and attitudes of both younger and older people. These combined with information about the training course for professionals, 'sex, alcohol and rubber ducks', the offer of a demonstration of beer goggles, picking up pennies, and the display of condoms and condom demonstrators gave the meeting attendees a practical experience of the creative approach Brook takes to educating young people about the links between alcohol and sexual health.

I am just watching last weeks Panorama programme on racism in a housing estate near Bristol. It is really disturbing watching and is making me feel desperately sad. This programme is an urgent reminder to anyone who believes that racism is a thing of the past, and a reminder that we must not stop for one minute in challenging racism in all its forms and promoting positive relations and community cohesion from the earliest opportunity in our schools and communities.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Some things from my head on a saturday

This week has been as varied, interesting and challenging as most weeks are. As I sit with a cup of coffee on Saturday morning reflecting on the week there are a few things that are floating in my head that might be of interest.

Funded by V we have 20 young people working 4 days a week over the next two years. The first five have just started working with us part of the Vtalent year programme. Their brief is broad - they are here to work on sexual health campaigning and it is their role with the project manager to scope, define and fund, execute and evaluate their work. I was invited to come and listen to their work.

They have done some really brilliant thinking about the reality of growing up as a young person in todays world and what helps and prevents young people developing sexual and relationship confidence and competence. The quality and quantity of work done by five people in such a short amount of time is remarkable and I am excited about the potential power and impact of their work in the future.

I am proud of the way the team within the office has really quickly adapted the way they work to offer help and support, as well as learn from the young people we have the privilege of working with us on a day to day basis.

We also kick started the process of involving young people in preparing for our annual conference in March 2010. The theme next year is gender. My assertion and belief is that unless we bring gender centre stage and use our understanding of gender stereotypes and expectations to inform all of our policy and practice development we will fail on our policy objectives of reducing teenage pregnancy and improving sexual health and the quality of relationships. A group of young people are setting off on a project to provide conference delegates with a first hand view 0f growing up as a boy or growing up as a girl in the 21st century. Asked what i was expecting them to tell us, I truly do not know what they will say - having been involved in many projects about gender about 15 years ago, I am waiting with anticipation to see what is the same and what is different.

Following the gender theme, in 2004 Amnesty International launched a global campaign to Stop Violence Against Women and campaigned with others to get rape recognised as a war crime. In June last year the UN passed resolution 1820 that recognises rape as a war crime that undermines peace and security. This resolution is a major achievement and the resolution needs sustained support and commitment from governments to ensure that rape is stopped. This eyewitness account from Nepal emphasises the importance of all us doing what we can to support the campaign -

'An officer ordered five of his men to take her to a nearby cowshed. At 5 am Reena was taken out and three shots were heard. Villagers found her naked body after the security forces left the village. Bloodstains on her discarded clothes and underwear indicated that she had been raped before she was killed.'

Finally Lionel Shrivers, the author of 'You need to talk to Kevin' was interviewed in last Saturdays Guardian. She really made me think about relationships with parents, how they change over time, and how important it is to stop reverting to a teenage/parent relationship when one is with them - which I find it remarkably easy to do sometimes. Talking about how a a novel she wrote hurt her family and their relationship, she says 'accustomed to trying to win the approval of my parents, I under appreciated how much parents yearn for the approval of their children, too.' The next day I was listening to a radio programme about children who were the first to go to University in their family and some of the challenges the families faced in understanding each other.

It was a sobering listen as people allowed deep misunderstanding and assumptions to hurt relationships within the family. This came on the back of my brothers wedding which was brilliant day, and where I saw the overwhelming pride and love of my parents, and lots of family who I hadn't seen for far long. As I listened to the programme I felt bad about the times I got a bit above myself when I first went to college and learnt so many new things, grateful my family put up with it, were proud of it and put me back in my box from time to time, and resolved to make sure that this Christmas there would be no retreating to 1988 and my folks know how much I approve of and value them deeply.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Astounding judgement on abortion data

On Thursday the Information Tribunal ruled that Department of Health must release statistical data on abortions that take place after 24 weeks owing to foetal abnormality. This comes at the end of a six year effort from Department of Health to ensure that the confidentiality of the small number of women who have to make an incredibly difficult decision to terminate their pregnancy at a late stage of gestation is protected.

The Department of Health stopping publishing the data in 2003 after the Reverend Joanna Jepson asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate a case which led to a doctor being identified and targeted by an anti choice organisation .

I had been expecting the judgement imminently, however you know when you are shocked and have to reread an email a few times to be sure you have read it right - this was one of those emails. I was particularly surprised that the judgement went against the DH because when the case was being heard in the Courts, a high profile doctor who carried out abortions in the USA was shot dead by an individual who opposed his work - and whilst there is a different culture here there is no doubt that individuals can and do get targeted in the UK as well.

That is why both Brook and fpa have urged the DH to take this case to the high court. If a small number of women and their doctors are going to be failed by a system which potentially allows anti abortion groups to identify and put pressure on individuals then I for one want to be sure that everything that could possibly be done to stop this incredibly damaging move has been done.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Young people's perceptions of alcohol

Last week I made reference to the Labour Party Conference being proof that young people learn about alcohol from the way adults around them drink - because they are sad, happy, upset, furious, or of course, for no other reason than they want a drink. My experience and behaviour at the Conservative Party Conference was similar - very late nights and too much to drink at least once, possibly twice.

Last week the British Youth Council launched a report about young people's experiences of alcohol, Sex and drinking - young people's experiences. As part of the report a survey of 1,000 young people found that there were strong links between drinking alcohol and having unsafe sex, almost one in three young people said the first time they had sex they had been drinking, and of these one in five would not have had sex if they were sober.

This supports what we already know that if young people have been drinking they are more likely to regret having sex and less likely to use contraception.

Most of the young people surveyed agreed that advice and information about avoiding drinking which might lead to having unsafe or regretted sex should be available in sexual health clinics. And of course, that is already happening in some places in both education and clinical services.

Brook has produced a new 'alcohol version' of our Have fun, be careful poster to remind young people if they are going to have sex to always use a condom to protect against unplanned pregnancy and STIs (see for further information).

Posters, leaflets and discussions in education about the links between sexual risk taking and other drugs is crucial, but it is not the task. The task is to shift our culture around alcohol so young people are learning about safe and responsible drinking from the adults around them.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Sexual health at the party conferences

If you ever need proof that young people take their lessons about alcohol from the adults around them you might just want to visit a political party conference next autumn. There is absolutely no doubt that alcohol is a social lubricant at these affairs.

Tonight I am packing my bag to head off to the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on the early train tomorrow, reflecting on the questions I want to ask, the people I want to speak to and the answers I want to get. This time last week I was doing the same in preparation for the Labour Party Conference in Brighton.

In Brighton I was pleased at the commitment from Ministers to securing PSHE as a statutory subject. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a desire to get this through the legislative process. I just hope this becomes a reality and will be looking for reassurance from the Conservative Party that they want to see PSHE being statutory and will support it in parliament. Children's personal development and their health and well being is not party political, and particularly in the run up to the general election we have to ensure that it does not become so. The absolute majority of people, parents, professionals and children want schools to deliver high quality Personal, Social and Health Education. Brook among others has been campaigning for a long time to make that happen.

I was particularly pleased to attend a few fringe meetings where young people were involved in a meaningful way, creating and offering solutions to move away from the demonising approach to young people. A young women speaking at The Children's Society fringe meeting about inter generational relations told sad tales of a society that has lost sight of the power and creativity of young people. I was particularly horrified that she had been told by a shop keeper she could not come in because she looked like a thief, and had to endure the sound of a mosquito alarm going off whilst eating Mcdonalds with friends. She was followed by Professor Tanya Byron who gave a compelling presentation and ended by saying she was ashamed of our fearful punitive approach to young people.

We still have a long way to go in ensuring that children and young people are effectively integrated into our policy thinking and discussions. I worry still that either we do not think hard enough in the planning of meetings and the support young people are offered so they cannot be fully involved, or we try so hard to include them that all conversations defer back to young people and they never ever get challenged. Neither approach is good enough and we all still have a long way to go to get youth involvement right.

The National Autistic Society held an excellent fringe on the education of children with autism, and I look forward to following up an early conversation with their CEO about how we can make sure that high quality education for children with autism extends to education about their bodies, relationships and sexual health as well.

I will be leaving Manchester to head back to London on Wednesday where in the evening I am speaking at a meeting about sex and relationships education set up by Dialogue with Islam in the East London Mosque at 6.45. You can find out more from their website