Communicating about sexual health and relationships within local authority care placements

Nixon, Catherine L (2015) Communicating about sexual health and relationships within local authority care placements. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

Background: Evidence from population-level studies demonstrates that adolescent sexual health outcomes are associated with social exclusion, and that certain groups, including young people looked after by local authorities often experience poorer sexual health outcomes. The poorer sexual health outcomes observed for looked after young people has led to the Scottish Government recommending that looked after young people be prioritised for the delivery of sexual health and relationships education, and that residential carers, foster carers and social workers should play a key role in the delivery of sexual health and relationships information to looked after young people. This recommendation builds on existing policy initiatives that have emphasised that parents should be routinely talking to their children about sexual health and relationships. Despite a growing research interest in the health of looked after young people, there is currently little known about how sexual health and relationships discussions are undertaken within the care setting. This is because much of the research that has been published to date has focussed upon identifying barriers to communication rather than establishing how communications are shaped by the characteristics of carers, looked after children and the wider context of the care system. In this thesis I hope to address this research gap by exploring what factors shape communications about sexual health and relationships within the care setting, and examining the extent to which connectedness, monitoring and supervision — parenting factors identified as promoting positive sexual health outcomes for adolescents within the wider literature — mediate these discussions. Methods: 54 in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with looked after young people (aged 14-18), care leavers (aged 16-23), residential workers, foster carers and social workers in one local authority in Scotland between August and December 2011. Data were analysed thematically, with data collected from corporate parents and looked after young people used to compare and contrast experiences of talking about sexual health within the care setting. Findings: The results presented in this study demonstrate that there has been a perceived shift in attitudes towards talking to looked after young people about their sexual health, and that residential carers, foster carers and social workers believe that talking to young people about sexual health and relationships should be a core responsibility of the corporate parent. Despite this, the results of this study demonstrate that talking to young people about sexual health and relationship is a subject that is fraught with tensions, with many of the corporate parents interviewed expressing difficulties reconciling their own views about the appropriateness of talking to young people about sexual behaviours with their professional responsibility to inform and protect looked after young people from risk. Looking specifically at how communications about sexual health and relationships were undertaken within the care setting, the results of this study show that talking to young people in care about sexual health and relationships is mediated by the impact or pre-care and care histories, in particular maltreatment and poor attachment security, upon young people’s understandings of relationships and their ability to trust other people and seek out help and support. Whilst corporate parents emphasised the need for training to help them identify strategies for talking to young people about sexual health and relationships, the results of this study show that corporate parents are already undertaking sexual health and relationships work that is tailored to the age and stage of the child, and is balanced by the provision of monitoring and supervision to minimise risk. Conclusions: The results of this thesis show that discussions about sexual health and relationships need to be underpinned by a trusting relationship between corporate parents and looked after children. As such, an emphasis needs to be placed upon improving young people’s ability to trust other people. Improving permanency for young people in the care system, in conjunction with the development of attachment based sexual health practices, may result in the promotion of positive outcomes for looked after young people. Future policies and training relating to the provision of sexual health and relationships education within the care system should reflect this fact.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: looked after children; residential Care; foster care; social work; parenting; corporate parenting; sexual health; sexual health and relationships education; health education
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
R Medicine > RJ Pediatrics > RJ101 Child Health. Child health services
Colleges/Schools: College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Health and Wellbeing > MRC/CSO Unit
College of Social Sciences
Funder's Name: UNSPECIFIED
Supervisor's Name: Henderson, Dr. Marion and Elliott, Prof. Lawrie
Date of Award: 2015
Depositing User: Miss Catherine L Nixon
Unique ID: glathesis:2015-6291
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 21 Apr 2015 15:26
Last Modified: 28 Apr 2015 12:15
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/6291

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