Published in August 2011
The teenage pregnancy strategy has come to an end and the economic environment provides the government and local areas with an immense challenge when it comes to spending on young people's sexual health services.
However, if the successful reduction in teenage pregnancy is to continue, we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball. Lots of people were asking FPA and our fellow sexual health charity, Brook what we expect to happen with regard to policy and teenage pregnancy.
So we asked Sarah Teather MP, Minister for Children and Families, if she would send a message to professionals working with young people to answer the question: What do you expect local areas to do to keep teenage pregnancy rates down now there is no dedicated strategy?
Read her answer below. If you would like to respond to anything Sarah Teather says, or would like to ask other questions, please email us at email@example.com with ‘Ask Sarah Teather’ in the subject line and we will pass your views and comments to her.
“I’m really pleased to have this opportunity to emphasise that even though the previous government’s ten year strategy ended in 2010, teenage pregnancy remains a priority for the Coalition Government. I recognise – and welcome – the significant progress in local areas to reduce teenage pregnancy which is now at its lowest level for 30 years. This is a tribute to the hard work of skilled people like yourselves working directly with young people – and making a positive difference to their lives.
“But rates of births, abortions and repeat abortions remain too high and many young people are still not getting the support they need. Together with Public Health Minister Anne Milton, I want to reassure you all that we remain committed to this issue and are determined to make further progress. I’m particularly concerned that we pay as much attention to helping boys as well as girls to make wise and informed choices.
“Work to reduce teenage pregnancy and improve outcomes for teenage parents makes a real difference to young people. It’s also critical to reducing child poverty and narrowing health inequalities. That is why the under 18 conception rate is a measurement indicator of our Child Poverty Strategy and a proposed indicator for the Public Health Outcomes Framework and why we have included previous local funding for teenage pregnancy work in the Early Intervention Grant.”
“We feel it’s more effective to integrate teenage pregnancy into our wider programmes on youth and sexual health. This is the approach I know is already working in a lot of local areas where young people are being provided with coordinated support – for example around alcohol and risky sexual behaviour – with a focus on early intervention for those who need more help.”
“I want local areas to continue their work to reduce teenage pregnancy and improve sexual health as part of their efforts to give their young people the best start in life.
“It’s important too that we apply the international evidence on what works. As Brook and FPA know, the evidence shows that comprehensive sex and relationships education (SRE), combined with easy access to effective contraception are the two essential ingredients for reducing teenage pregnancy. All young people need this support, delivered through universal services to help them make safe and informed choices. But those most at risk may need more intensive and tailored SRE and contraceptive advice, combined with additional support to build their resilience, aspirations and educational attainment.
“Comprehensive SRE helps young people deal with pressures to have early sex before they’re ready – an issue for boys as well as girls – and gives them the knowledge and skills to avoid unplanned pregnancy and STIs when they do choose to have sex. It also includes understanding sexual consent – a really important issue for healthy relationships, preventing sexual violence and safeguarding. And of course parents are key – both in talking to their children at home and through involvement in school SRE. I know the FPA Speakeasy programme has led the way in helping parents gain the knowledge and confidence to talk to their children about these issues. I hope to meet some of the Speakeasy parents in the autumn to hear how they have benefited from the programme.”
“When young people choose to begin a sexual relationship I want them – boys and girls – to feel that asking for contraception and sexual health advice is the right and responsible thing to do. I want them to find an effective method of contraception that they are happy with, to minimise the risk taking that results in repeated visits for emergency contraception. That means including accurate information in SRE, and providing friendly services which are in the right locations, open at the right times, confidential and well publicised.
“The Department of Health (DH) You’re Welcome criteria provide an excellent framework for the commissioning of young people friendly services and I know Brook has pioneered and continues to exemplify a sexual health service trusted by young people. Brook’s Sex Positive campaign also sounds very interesting. In September, my colleague Tim Loughton will be meeting some of Brook's young volunteers to hear more about their fresh approach to talking about relationships, teenage pregnancy and sexual health.”
“As well as understanding the international evidence, I want local areas to learn the lessons from areas which have successfully translated this into effective practice. Key to this has been strategic senior leadership across the local authority (LA) and health, an understanding of each partner agency’s contribution to delivering SRE and contraception/sexual health advice – through schools, colleges, youth services, social care and VCS organisations – and really good use of local data to reach young people most at risk. This is why localism is so important. It is local people and frontline services, in consultation with young people, who understand what is needed in their area to make further progress.”
“Of course, local action to support teenage parents to help achieve positive futures for themselves and their children is equally important for breaking the cycle of child poverty and inequalities. I want local areas to include teenage parents in their efforts to improve support for vulnerable families through maternity and expanded health visitor services, Children’s Centres and Family Nurse Partnership.
“Helping teenage parents re-engage with education or work based learning, for example through the new bursary scheme and Care to Learn scheme of support with childcare costs, is also critical to local areas’ ambitions to increase participation levels and employment prospects for young people. And of course teenage parents continue to need really good contraceptive advice to help prevent repeat pregnancies. Local consultation with young parents is really important to address any barriers that might prevent them accessing the support they need.
“I recognise that none of this is easy – and made more difficult with limited resources. But I know many areas are working hard to find ways to continue prioritising teenage pregnancy and delivering integrated prevention and support services in the most effective way. Even against a backdrop of reduced funding, change and service reform, with concerted effort and continued focus from senior leaders I believe it will be possible to build on the successes you have all contributed to and to make further progress.”
“The transfer of public health responsibility to LAs and the creation of Health and Wellbeing Boards offer a real opportunity to develop a more integrated approach to including teenage pregnancy and sexual health in needs assessment and commissioning. The Director of Public Health and the Director of Children’s Services, both proposed statutory members of the Boards, will be key to ensuring local teenage pregnancy data and intelligence – including from frontline services such as Brook – informs the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment and commissioning decisions.
“There is very good local data on teenage pregnancy but although we know a lot about the characteristics of teenage mothers, we know much less about young women who have abortions. We are about to pilot a piece of research with the Office of National Statistics to identify the characteristics of all young women who conceive. If the research is successful we will be able to provide local areas with more information to help their targeting of early support. We will update you on the progress of this research in September.
“Our Youth Policy Statement and Department of Health (DH) Sexual Health Document will be published in the autumn and will include more detail on teenage pregnancy policy. I’m very pleased that Brook and FPA are involved with the development of both documents and are also members of the DH Sexual Health Forum.
“I look forward to your comments on the youth narrative and youth health paper which are now on the Positive for Youth website. The closing date for comments is 15 September. We will be saying more about commissioning in the Youth Policy Statement and Sexual Health Document later this year so I’m particularly interested to hear how areas are establishing effective new arrangements.”
“In the meantime, I’m keen that local areas and frontline practitioners benefit from the teenage pregnancy briefings that have been developed over the last year. The Child Poverty-Teenage Pregnancy Briefing (PDF) is particularly helpful in highlighting the contribution of teenage pregnancy work to local child poverty plans and includes an example of how local areas can monitor progress on prevention and support.
“We’ve also provided a list of the high rate wards by LA to inform local child poverty planning. The two briefings for GPs and community nurses, midwives and health visitors, published with the key professional organisations, are also very useful for helping frontline practitioners understand their contribution to teenage pregnancy work.
“Finally, I’d like to reiterate our commitment to making further progress on teenage pregnancy. We have moved away from a top down approach to a focus on localism but that doesn’t mean Government has no part to play.
“We want the Youth Policy Statement and Sexual Health Document to be as helpful as possible by drawing upon expertise – so please do encourage others to send through their thoughts on effective practice and what they know works.
“We also want your input to the PSHE review which was launched last month and runs until 30 November 2011.
“Most importantly, we need all of you determined and skilled people to continue working together, across sectors and disciplines, championing the issue, delivering excellent work and finding imaginative ways to build on success. I look forward to hearing more from you over the autumn.”
If you would like to respond to anything Sarah Teather has said here, or ask other questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Ask Sarah Teather’ in the subject line. We will pass your views and comments to her.