Sixty Second Interview with Judith Doyle
Children’s minister Beverley Hughes recently urged councils failing to cut teenage pregnancy rates to adopt best practice from local authorities who were managing to do so. Amy Taylor talks to Judith Doyle, a member of Gateshead Primary Care Trust’s sexual health promotion team (which works in partnership with the council) about how they have cut teenage pregnancies in their area.
What are the main reasons behind the council’s strong performance on cutting teenage pregnancy?
It started from good foundations. The local teenage pregnancy strategy has always enjoyed support from key senior figures in the primary care trust and Gateshead Council including elected members.
Excellent commitment from all partner agencies who acknowledge the importance of the work and are aware of the challenges.
The Teenage Pregnancy Strategy has been developed by focusing on the needs of young people – of course targets are important but a key aim is to reduce the number of young people who regret having sex by encouraging delay in sexual activity by providing good SRE (sex and relationship education) messages which are delivered by all those working with young people and their parents and carers.
In Gateshead we do not have a dedicated Teenage Pregnancy Team – but a number of projects hosted in different agencies. This has helped ownership of the strategy but more importantly understanding of roles and contributions. Many of the projects are now delivering work to young people in a multi-agency way.
How do other agencies work with the council in this work?
This looked-after children sexual health promotion worker’s role illustrates the strength and commitment of Gateshead Council to their corporate parenting responsibilities and to the overall health needs of looked-after children and young people.
A major element of the post is to act as a specialist consultant for those working with looked-after young people. Many different agencies can and do signpost either young people, foster carers and social workers to me for one to one advice and support with any sexual health related issues.
I also work with a colleague from North East Council on Addictions (NECA) – Martin Anderson to deliver work in Young People’s/Children’s residential placements to promote positive lifestyles and raise awareness of good sexual health and knowledge of drug and alcohol issues. This is very important for all young people and in particular this group of young people who may have been exposed to more risk factors associated with increased vulnerability to poorer health outcomes.
I am a member of the multi-agency looked-after partnership (MALAP) and the Every Child Matters, LAC Be Healthy Sub Group, which is part of Gateshead’s Children and Young People’s Plan
I also work very closely with the LAC Health Team including Linda Hubbucks, the designated nurse for LAC and colleagues from Gateshead Council’s Children’s Rights Service.
A part of your work to cut teenage pregnancies involves having dedicated sexual health workers for looked-after children. Why did you decide to create these posts and what impact are they having?
At the start of the strategy in 2001 the need for targeted work was identified from a number of sources – national statistics show increased risk of teenage pregnancy for those in or leaving care – local intelligence confirmed this.
Sex education was also identified as an issue, as many looked after children and young people had missed or not recalled receiving any SRE at school. In addition to this many carers and social workers were very unclear about their roles and responsibilities and did not have the confidence to talk to young people about sexual issues.
It was decided to appoint a LAC Sexual Health Worker – this is a joint appointment with Gateshead Council & Gateshead PCT – and I was appointed in May 2004. I am based within Gateshead PCT Sexual Health Team and have a remit to work closely with Children and Families Services and the LAC Health Team. This post is funded by Gateshead’s Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting Partnership.
The first task was the completion of a Sexual Health Policy for LAC, which was adopted in September 2004. Since then an in depth best practice guidance to the policy document has been developed, which has involved wide consultation with Young People, Sexual Health Team, LAC Health Team, Social Workers, Foster Carers, Children’s Rights Service. Mandatory training is now being delivered to ensure the full implementation of the policy.
I work closely with the Leaving Care Team and is involved with the delivery of the Leaving Care Health Drop-in.
Have you targeted support at any other groups of young people?
The Gateshead Strategy has identified different groups of young people at higher risk of experiencing a teenage pregnancy or least likely to use services.
We have targeted work in Pupil Referral Units as they may have missed out on SRE in schools. We have a multi-agency delivery team that includes the LAC Sexual Health Worker, Young Men & Boy’s Worker, NECA and Youth Workers Sex Education Nurse and Sex Education Officer. This work focuses on raising awareness of risk taking, myth busting and relationships.
We have a Specialist Nurse for Teenage Pregnancy who works with young women who think they may be pregnant to deliver options and advice. She also works with young mothers and young women who have had an abortion to reduce the risk of a second pregnancy.
We have developed successful Young Men and Boys work – again the focus is on developing relationships, risk awareness, myth busting and condoms.
We have a Sex Education Nurse who delivers sex education to groups such as those living in supported accommodation.
We have a Young Mother’s Outreach Support Worker to contact all young women who intend to carry on a pregnancy and offer them individual support to ensure that they can access services, benefits, accommodation and support.
Young Father’s Worker – who delivers work which develops relationships. Outcomes from this work have addressed issues such as domestic violence, basic skills. This project has resulted in some fathers successfully obtaining employment.
Supported Housing for young mothers – we have a post which focuses on linking young mothers into communities and services offered in communities such as Sure Start, Children’s Centres, Connexions.
There has been an 11 per cent fall in teenage pregnancy rates in England since the launch of the government’s teenage pregnancy strategy in 1999. How has the strategy influenced work in Gateshead?
We have received a lot of support from the National Teenage Pregnancy Unit both in data analysis, sharing of good practice and media campaigns. The National Unit has helped to reinforce the high profile and strategic direction that is needed to address such a complex issue locally, regionally and nationally, and has always been available to provide support for co-ordinators when needed.
What do you think could be some of the reasons behind the UK having one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe?
In the UK we tend to be nervous of discussing sexual relationships openly and without embarrassment. Evidence suggests that when open discussions take place in the home the age of onset for sexual activity is raised. We need to let young people know that sexual feelings are normal and to be expected.
We need to let our young people know its okay to use services where they can get free confidential advice.