Teenage Pregnancy Strategy
Includes £450,000 a year for targeted youth work, tackling pregnancy and related issues such as alcohol and substance misuse
In 2008, Halton Council had a visit from the government's Teenage Pregnancy National Support Team, after figures for 2007 showed an alarming peak in the proportion of 15- to 17-year-olds getting pregnant in the North West borough.
The figure stood at 68.2 per 1,000, much higher than the 41.4 England average and a large increase from the 47.8 figure recorded in Halton just a year earlier. The council resolved to improve and extend sexual health information and advice for young people and the following year saw the appointment of Halton's "teen pregnancy tsar", John Bucknall.
He was given the brief to tackle teenage pregnancies, along with the related issues of alcohol and substance misuse, and soon after he arrived in September, a teenage pregnancy strategy was in place.
"There was a cultural issue at the time; young mums whose children had gone on to become young mums," he recalls. "There was a lot of pressure on us to try to turn it all around."
Expanding the number of specialist sexual health clinics for young people was a major plank of the strategy. The borough's public health department now funds 13 of them, run by sexual health charity Brook and St Helens and Knowsley Hospitals Trust. They provide advice and a range of contraception, with opening hours that mean teenagers can go after school.
The new strategy also led to a much more proactive approach to engaging young people on sexual health issues, says Bucknall. "Before, a lot of provision was about waiting for young people to come to services, rather than actually going out to individuals in their community and engaging them on this issue," he says.
In 2010, the borough restructured its youth service from a model based mainly on universal youth club provision to a service that was 50 per cent outreach work. This has enabled youth workers to target particular wards and schools where teenagers are most at risk, says Bucknall.
The youth workers are aided by an outreach bus, parked at hotspots where teenagers are known to gather or walk home from school. Youth workers dispense information about sexual health clinics from the vehicle, invite young people to register for free condoms and provide counselling inside the bus.
Other initiatives include the 18-week Teens and Toddlers course, which saw teenagers in four secondary schools spend time with young children in a nursery, alongside classroom sessions designed to boost their aspirations and reduce risky behaviour such as unprotected sex.
Then there is Healthitude, a five-week programme covering sexual health, relationships, smoking and substance misuse, delivered to young people around the transition from primary to secondary school.
The borough also offers sexual health awareness training to frontline staff across the partners in Halton Children's Trust to help them ensure young people get key messages.
"Halton has been quite lucky in that it has managed to maintain a lot of its youth services, unlike some other places," says Bucknall, who is now the integrated commissioning manager within the council's children and enterprise directorate. "What's been key is that I've made a point of making sure more elected members know about what's going on. Sometimes, we've had one or two councillors saying we can't put condoms on that poster, because some of their constituents won't be happy. But we work through those issues. We've made it everybody's business."
Halton's efforts to decrease teenage pregnancies appears to have paid off year by year since 2010. The rate of conceptions among the borough's 15- to 17-year-olds in the first quarter of last year was 30.2 per 1,000; less than half the 68.2 figure of 2007. After a plummet in the conception rate to 50.3 in 2008, the year the council resolved to reverse the trend, the figure crept up to 54.9 and 58.5 in 2009 and 2010 respectively. But it then nose-dived to 41.5 in 2011, then 40.2 in 2012, leading early last year to the all-time low of 30.2.
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