“I feel safer now”: Empowering physical and mental health through our Sexual Health service

Sexuality is often intimately bound with our identity. The experiences and support young people access on the physical and emotional aspects of sex can make a lasting impact on their health and wellbeing. Whether it’s understanding how to protect themselves from STIs to having someone to speak to about their emotional responses to intimate situations, engaging with impartial, confidential, and professional support can empower a lifetime of healthy, fulfilling relationships.

Children North East’s Sexual Health service team is committed to delivering an inclusive service that works hard to support diverse communities and provide sensitive, expert advice where it can add value to the lives of young people. In the last six months, through their work in schools, universities and youth settings, they have worked with 394 young people, including 322 who were new to the service.


A safe space for a difficult subject

The team creates safe, confidential spaces in which to explore the emotional side of sexual health alongside its traditional physical health support, which includes the C-Card scheme and STI testing. This approach plays an important role in the impact the team have for the young people they engage with. Trained to deliver workshops, assemblies, and one-to-one guidance on a wide range of issues impacting young people, they tackle themes as broad as healthy relationships, mental health, the law, online safety, pornography, sexual exploitation and sexting.

When we ask the young people about their experience of the sexual health service, the idea of safety crops up time and time again: “they gave us valuable information to keep us safe”, “I feel safer now”, “I finally felt confident opening up”.

Healthy Relationships

Making sure we’re there for everyone

Routinely engaging the expertise of staff across the charity in specialist categories of support and collaborating with its diverse groups of young people, the team have been able to reach underserved communities and those with additional needs. Close links have been made with our LGBTQ+ youth support provision, delivering sexual health talks exploring themes they have shared are important to them. Similar approaches are currently being taken with neurodiverse young people accessing Children North East services and those living with a disability.

Our broader expertise in these areas enables us to signpost young people to additional services, such as peer mentoring or mental health support.

The background of young people can often impact their likelihood of engaging with a sexual health service and Children North East pursue pathways of connecting with those that may be harder to reach. Examples include collaborating with Black and Asian communities in the West End of Newcastle and the Chinese student population.

Feedback from the young people from these groups has been particularly inspiring, for example one university student from China reporting to the team, “It’s useful, it’s good it’s here”, before saying she would highlight the opportunity to her peers from China who had never previously accessed any service of this kind. Sometimes the feedback highlights the gravity of the issues some young people have or continue to face. Another student, who had recently moved to the UK from Poland, fed back to the team that she had never received any support of this kind previously, sharing that her country had recently passed a law abolishing abortion and that sexual health education and services were simply not available to ordinary people like her.

Sexual Health Service

Accessible when young people need us

Our team are often one of the last lines of defence against choices that may have a longer lasting impact on a young person’s life if not dealt with, providing a convenient and discreet way of dealing with existing concerns. These include STI and pregnancy testing, helping them choose and access the right contraception, and supporting decision-making during pregnancy. One secondary school student who used our STI testing service commented, “I didn’t feel uncomfortable. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else”. Another reported, “I probably wouldn’t have gotten one [a chlamydia test] if they weren’t here”. This can also extend to the team being on hand to help them pursue safe choices as they encounter new emotional experiences: “She explained really well, gave us time to ask questions and was very nice to me and my boyfriend”.

Victoria Tinning is an Attendance and Personal Coach at the Newcastle-based school Studio West. She asked our team to deliver a session for her students after becoming concerned about the lack of access to similar support during the COVID-19 lockdowns. She commented, “Sessions were brilliant and very informative. The drop-in sessions are great and the students seem to find this very useful and handy that you come into school, making the service more accessible.”

As the world around us changes, from the technologies we use to the way we reflect on gender as a society, so do the needs of young people. However, what remains the same is our commitment to listening to the experiences of young people, growing our support to address the challenges they face, and to give everyone access to services that contribute to a future of healthy, happy relationships.