The fight against teenage pregnancy

TEN pregnancies by the age of 16, gonorrhoea at 12 – these were just two of the findings in a shocking sex survey.Sex experts in south-east London unearthed these and other unwanted statistics which all add up to Britain having one of the worst teen pregnancy problems in western Europe.

TEN pregnancies by the age of 16, gonorrhoea at 12 – these were just two of the findings in a shocking sex survey.

Sex experts in south-east London unearthed these and other unwanted statistics which all add up to Britain having one of the worst teen pregnancy problems in western Europe.

In countries like Holland, sex is treated differently and teen pregnancies are much lower.

But do British parents want to see censorship thrown out of the window in the cause of reducing unwanted pregnancies?

And if the answer is no, how do we find a way forward while protecting the innocence of youth?

Jon Tunney found out experts see better education as the answer. But that not all learning takes place in schools and not all students are the children.

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MANY parents would be shocked and angered to discover sex education is standard for four-year-olds.

But Jan McDonald is hoping to change parental attitudes by bringing mums and dads into the classroom.

A new pilot project called Learning Together is in the process of being launched in Suffolk, which Mrs McDonald hopes will set minds at ease.

She said: "Parental advice can be the most important and valuable for their children.

"We want to get parents to come into school and take part in the lessons. They would worry a lot less if they knew what was going on."

As Personal and Social Development Advisor for Suffolk, Mrs McDonald recently led a three year Learning Together project for drug education.

And she hopes its success in breaking down barriers and taboos can be repeated in touchy subjects like sex education for toddlers.

She said: "Sex education in primary schools is about giving children the skills to make decisions in their life.

"The sad thing is that parents don't seem to understand – it's as if you are teaching people how to have sex.

"The only time it could nearer to that definition is much later on in secondary school in science lessons.

"In primary schools they should develop confidence in talking about relationships and when they are old enough be prepared for puberty."

Mrs McDonald explained the early stages of sex education aren't actually about sex at all, more the first step on a ladder which leads towards a more detailed education as children reach their teens.

Sex education in Suffolk follows OFSTED guidelines and schools are increasingly employing experts to take the classes.

The most recent statistics show Suffolk is below the national average for unwanted teen pregnancies.

But Mrs McDonald said improvements in education were still needed and that OFSTED was encouraging change nationwide.

She said: "Knowledge is good among 14, 15 and 16-year-olds, but for many that is too late and it needs to be further down the scale.

"The main thing is that young people have to be consulted about what they need."

SCHOOL-DAYS are already over for many of the troubled teens who end up with unwanted pregnancies.

Kathleen Cannings believes school problems often go hand-in-hand with the other social problems which can lead to underage sex.

But as County Manager for Reproductive Health, she is at pains to point out not all education takes place in the classroom.

She said: "Some schools are more accessible than others and teenagers who in this situation often come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"The Ipswich teen pregnancy strategy is aimed at them. Education can come through youth clubs or clinics.

"My main concern as a clinician is being flexible enough to deal with the needs of young people."

One of the most important elements of the strategy is the creation of 20 Assist Clinics across Suffolk.

Mrs Cannings said these clinics were available to give help not available elsewhere such as emergency contraception, condoms and pregnancy testing.

But the clinics also have a role to play in preventing the situation that they all too often have to solve.

Mrs Cannings said: "Assist Clinics are offering help and advice before children get to the age of sexual maturity.

"But we need to make sure what we are doing is right for young people.

"Some of the Assist Clinics are not getting the numbers that we would like to see.

"Do we need to look at Saturday opening? Are people confident that it is confidential."

In an attempt to get the message across more effectively, the clinics are producing credit card-sized guidelines.

And Mrs Cannings knows the educational role the clinics play could be vital in achieving the aim of cutting teen pregnancies.

She said: "Some of the people that need the most help are the ones who don't go to school.

"We need to make sure that these people have access to the services they need.

"Schools are very important, but they're not the whole answer."

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