KwikZips: The Late Night Edition

Sex in the CBO: The Role With It Episode

You already are teaching the young people you work with about sexual health, so shouldn’t you be more aware of it and better prepared?

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Young people. Relationships. Sexual health. Sexual identity. Urgent stuff! The young people we work with bring with them many positive as well as some very challenging situations and issues. And, when those issues are related to sexual health, they can be particularly challenging for them, and for us!

How can we support the sexual health of the young people with whom we work? What roles can youth development professionals play to support sexual health?

Let’s call it the Sex in the CBO top 7 roles and responsibilities episode, and roll right into role number 1.

#1: Modeling positive messages and behaviors

This one received a lot of attention in our previous episode but it bears repeating. We are always behaving, in words and in deeds, in ways that portray sexual messages. Not sex messages, though that happens too, sometimes inadvertently, but sexual health messages, about gender, about sexual identity, about relationships.

Are you modeling good relationship skills and building trust, are your messages positive regarding healthy body image, do you use inclusive language for all orientations and gender identities, and do you avoid harassing and stereotypical comments? Being a sexual health role model, that’s what role number 1 is all about!

So, your acting as a role model, conveying good messages by example, now how about cruising into role number 2:

#2: Capitalizing on teachable moments

Teachable moments? Yep. That’s when we see someone else doing something that isn’t quite right. Now we are moving beyond handling our own communication and stepping in to ensure others are creating a healthy environment.

Are you watching for name-calling based on perceived orientation or gender issues, are you mindful of young people being ostracized for being different, are you on the look out for signs of problematic relationships, of people struggling with sexuality related issues?

Will you try to approach these situations and help improve them?

That’s role number 2, moving beyond role model to helping others model positive messages and behaviors. And directly addressing negative, harmful, issues and messages. And we are on to role number 3:

#3: Responding to questions from youth

This one’s easy, you sort of have to do it. I mean if a youth comes to you with a sexual health related question, you’d try to answer, right?

But here’s the kicker, would you be able to answer questions well? Just as importantly, would youth be likely to even ask you a question in the first place?

How can you make yourself more approachable? Often young people have very few if any people they trust with issues and often it only takes one such trusted person to make all the difference in the young person’s life.

Are you willing to be that person? To make yourself approachable? To be prepared to talk about sexual health issues if they raise them, or if you spot a teachable moment and need to raise it yourself?

That’s role number 3: be approachable and be able and willing to respond to questions in appropriate ways. Which moves us to role number 4:

#4: Providing referrals and resources for specialized information and services

We can’t do it all. Young people will bring you issues. You will sometimes need help. You won’t know how to handle a situation, or an issue may be beyond your skill, or outside your organizations policies.

That’s when we have to be able to provide a referral or additional resources. Will you know where to send young people for more help and how to make such referrals in ways that increase the likelihood the young people will get the help they need? Will you be sure to leave the door open to them so they know you are always a safe harbor, someone they trust and that they can come back to?

That’s role number 4. When, where, and how to refer young people for additional help with their health issues. And there are other roles we may have to play related to supporting the health of our young people. These include:

#5. Performing legal responsibilities

There are situations related to our young people in which we are legally required to report the things we observe or talk to them about.

These situations, and the mechanisms required for reporting, vary by jurisdiction, but it’s our responsibility to be aware of both the law and our organization’s policies. There may even be times when our organizational policy is at odds with the law. This happens more often than you would think.

And guess who is in trouble if you follow the organization’s policy in these cases?

Everyone! So checking your organization’s policy against the law of the land is a good idea and an opportunity for a different kind of teachable moment for everyone!

And this isn’t solely true for reporting, it’s true for access to services and information too, and for privacy issues as well.

We all can hope we never have a situation we have to report, but when it happens, will you know what to do?

So that’s role number 5: know the law, know your policies and procedures, and follow them so everyone is safeguarded! Which leads to role number 6:

#6. Involving parents and guardians

So, you found some teachable moments for the young people you serve, and you taught!

Can you take it a step further and help open the door, between young people and their parents or guardians?

You’ll have to follow policy and law in doing so, which you’ve boned up on for one of your other roles, right? And you must take into consideration the confidentiality you have with the young person.

But depending on the situation, you can help the young person open communication with their parent or guardian, or you might provide age appropriate information about development including sexual health topics, or use optional homework to encourage family communication, as part of general messaging from your CBO.

Role number 6, Opening lines of communication with the parents or guardians to improve family health. Which leads us to our final role for today:

#7. Help your organization.

Can you help your organization itself take supporting sexual health to the next level?

Can you help review policies and procedures related to sexual health? Do you have policies on relationships? On how to handle discussions and referrals? You should!

And if you don’t then perhaps you can start the ball rolling. Not having solid policies and procedures can leave you and your organization liable for things that happen and for things that don’t, like reporting!

Does your organization conduct education sessions related to sexual health? And we aren’t talking straight up sex talk here! Do you talk about relationships? About how to communicate, about body image, about language? If not, can you?

You do NOT want to figure out that your organization has no helpful policies, procedures, or resources in place after a young person has an urgent need to access information, services, or support. That’s not good for kids, staff, or the CBO.

So that’s role number 7: help your organization systematically and proactively address sexual health.

That’s it! 7 roles. And that’s a lot. Some may seem easy. Others intimidating. You may not be able to do each of these things on your own, yet.

But are you willing to give each role a shot? Ready to learn more about them and to pay attention to opportunities in your work where you can try on each role?

From ensuring we ourselves are doing no harm, to being approachable and addressing teachable moments in the lives of others, to helping our organizations be better prepared to support our youth, there are a lot of things we can do to support sexual health.

What will you do?

Remember, sexual health begins with you. Model positive messages, address teachable moments, understand and follow the law and policies, and help yourself, your young people, and your organization be a healthier, happier, safer place to be.

Sex in the CBO, you can be the difference maker! What do you want for young people? And what will you do to ensure that?

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