My Fellowship aimed to learn from international experience in the design and implementation of relationships and sex education (RSE) for children and young people.
Why is RSE needed? What should it look like and how should it be delivered? What is required to achieve successful implementation of RSE? What are the risks to implementation and how can they be mitigated? I sought the answers to these questions in my Fellowship travels across Ireland, the United Kingdom, Cologne, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States between May and July 2019. I sought to discover whether the practical perspective would testify to the power of RSE to equip children and young people with the skills they need in order to pursue wellbeing. I wanted to see what RSE content, methods and modes of delivery should look like in practice.
I did experience these things, but as I travelled my focus was increasingly drawn to the issue of implementation. Why, in the face of credible evidence in favour of RSE, do so many jurisdictions fail to turn the best intentions into action? What preconditions are necessary for RSE to take off? How can RSE implementation efforts be sheltered from the winds of ignorance, fear-mongering, opposition and resourcing impediments? How can communities be mobilised to take up the fight for their young people’s wellbeing?
This report hopes to answer some of those questions, and to provide a useful resource for advocates, governments, schools, teachers, parents and communities who are considering implementing RSE. Above all, it seeks to advocate on behalf of all young people, for their right to access comprehensive information and education that will empower them to pursue fulfilling lives.
Broadly, my report presents findings in four areas:
Based on my findings, this report includes a series of recommendations across all four areas directed at a range of sectors and stakeholders.
THE CASE FOR COMPREHENSIVE RSE
Comprehensive RSE for children and young people promotes wellbeing for all and is known to be effective in reducing the incidence of negative sexual experiences and sexualised violence. Poor sexual wellbeing, sexual harassment and sexualised violence are issues that have received increased community attention, within Australia and abroad. Gradually, RSE is being recognised as the key to combatting this social ill.
RSE DESIGN FEATURES: CONTENT AND MODES OF DELIVERY
Across the jurisdictions I visited, certain RSE design features were consistently present or endorsed as contributing to efficacy. To that end, RSE must:
IMPLEMENTATION SUCCESS FACTORS:
Across jurisdictions I observed several consistent factors contributing to the successful implementation of RSE:
These factors are defined by how effectively the power of advocates, governments, schools, parents, community members and young people can be harnessed as agents in the battle for universal access to comprehensive RSE. To this end, my report provides some detail as to how these factors operate and can best be mobilised.
RISKS TO IMPLEMENTATION AND MITIGATION STRATEGIES
However, even where each of these factors are present, RSE implementation may still be vulnerable to risks presented by resourcing impediments or, significantly, opposition. Fear and misinformation contribute to the likelihood of opposition arising and/or succeeding in derailing RSE initiatives. Mitigation strategies must focus on:
Keywords: RSE, SEND, sexuality, wellbeing, sexual violence, sexual harassment, puberty, reproduction, childhood, education, opposition
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