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Sex and sexuality
Children who are in care are more likely to have had a traumatic past which will impact on their understanding of sex, sexuality and personal relationships. The impact of this is that it can often be difficult for them to access advice and support both formally and informally and there is the risk that they will receive negative or incorrect messages.
A number of serious case reviews have also shown that children in care are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, with young women in care more likely to become pregnant at an early age and are more vulnerable to abusive relationships.
What do we mean by sex and sexuality?
Sexuality is the process of how we think, feel and behave about sex and our sexual relationships with others, whilst sex is the physical act between two people. Sexuality includes a wide range of topics including male and female bodies and how they work, human development, reproduction, types of relationships, what makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy, sexual behaviour, and how to prevent pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
Young people will have sexual relationships and explore their own sexuality regardless of whether the adults around them approve or not.
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Peer pressure is often a significant factor in a young person increasing their exploration, with many young people stating that peer pressure led them to doing things that they would not have otherwise.
Talking with young people will not prevent peer pressure from influencing the young person's decision making, however the more open social workers and carers are about sex and sexuality, the less hidden and secretive the young person is likely to be about what is happening for them.
Everyday we are presented with opportunities to talk about sexuality, for example talking about a television programme that shows relationships, knowing someone who is pregnant. Whilst this may be difficult, we all deal with difficult conversations with young people on a daily basis, and therefore we need to be aware of how or own particular values may be influencing us.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) or questioning young people
Young people who are in care and questioning their sexuality, or perceiving their sexuality to be different may feel further discriminated and isolated from their peers.
Various statistics suggest that one in four families has someone one in the family who is LGBT and many more have children who question their sexuality at some time.
The fear of being labelled as different can lead to a fear of losing the care and support of those around them, causing further confusion and anxiety.
If the young person you are working with does 'come out' (the common term for accepting and telling others about your sexual orientation or gender identity) you must listen to what is being said, regardless of how we feel, all the while reaffirming to the young person that it changes nothing in your relationship.
Information about sexuality and safe sex
There are many sources of support available for you as a professional and for children about their sexuality and practising safe sex.
Sexual Health Outreach Clinics are available for young people offering:
- sexual health information and advice
- free condoms
- hormonal contraception e.g. the pill, injection
- pregnancy testing
- chlamydia testing and treatment
- emergency hormonal contraception
- abortion information, advice and referral.
Clinics are free and confidential and young people can just drop in. No appointment is needed.
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