Health and care services

Sexual health in the 21st century

Mary Crawford new In educating young people about sex and relationships, as well as providing effective clinic services, Brook NI is contributing to the reduction in teenage pregnancies in Northern Ireland.

Brook NI recently celebrated the fact that it has been operating in Northern Ireland for over 21 years. During that period of time, over 151,000 young people have visited the clinic, 20 per cent of them young men. What an achievement. From humble beginnings of two sessions a week in North Street in Belfast, Brook NI now offers sessions seven days a week in Waring Street in Belfast and two sessions a week in Abbey Street in Coleraine. As well as a dedicated boys’ and young men’s clinic, there are two sessions specifically for the testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.

Brook NI has always recognised that both young women and young men have the right to information, the right to access services in order to be in a position to make decisions about their sexual health and the right to protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. Brook NI works to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as a model of good practice.

There are a number of ways that work in supporting the sexual health needs of young people. The clinic service provision is obviously one but on its own this is not enough. As part of the clinic service, young people also have the opportunity to talk to an information worker about health promotion. This approach means that any aspects of risk-taking behaviour can be addressed so that by the time the young person has completed their consultation, they are in a better position to make informed choices.

An additional aspect of Brook NI’s work is the development of educational outreach work. This has resulted in the delivery of relationship and sexual health education to organisations in a variety of youth and community settings. Flexibility in the style of delivery has meant that the requirements of the organisation are easily met.

The training of professionals working in the field of sexual health is also extremely important. Brook NI uses the Sexual Behaviours Traffic Light Tool to support professionals working with children and young people to identify, assess and respond appropriately to sexual behaviours. The tool uses a ‘traffic light’ system of green, amber and red to categorise sexual behaviours, to increase understanding of healthy sexual development, and to distinguish this from harmful behaviour.

So how does all of the above fit into the Sexual Health Promotion Strategy of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety?

One of the objectives of the Strategy is to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies. The latest figure for teenage pregnancies in Northern Ireland is 937. This reflects a drop of a third over the past decade. This is a really good news story for the Department and the Public Health Agency both of which have consistently funded Brook NI since 1993.

Reducing teenage pregnancies needs a multi-tasked approach. As well as clinic services, it is important that young people receive holistic sex education and that they have aspirations for their future lives.

Brook’s aim is to ensure that all young people have access to high quality, free and confidential sexual health services, as well as education and support enabling them to make informed, active choices about their personal and sexual relationships so they can enjoy their sexuality without harm.

For more information, contact Brook NI’s Director, Mary Crawford, as follows:

Print 9-13 Waring Street
Belfast, BT1 2DX
Tel: 028 9032 8866

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