Sexual behaviour and contraceptionPage 2/9: Topic Introduction
CHILDREN IN PUBLIC CARE AND SEXUALITY
Sexuality is an essential part of everybody’s life, and children are entitled to guidance from their caregivers in this – perhaps the most important – area of life. It is generally difficult for parents and caregivers to find ways of informing children and young people about sexuality and contraception. This has moral and personal reasons and in many cultures sexuality is connected with denial, silence, shame and guilt.
Why is it especially important to overcome such natural reservations when you work professionally with children placed outside home?
There are in fact many reasons:
Children who lack a secure sense of physical and sexual limits
Children from dysfunctional families often have experienced a lack of behavioral limits in their family of origin and therefore they have few limits in their own behavior, including sexual limits. They may have been sexually abused themselves. They often need help to adjust their behavior towards others in order not to be rejected by peers and other caregivers in the present placement of care. If you remember the dimension called “sensitivity” in secure care giving (The session: “4. How to practice professional care giving?”) you will understand why a lack of sensitive parenting early in life can cause a lack of sensitive contact with others later in life.
Children placed outside home are at higher risk for being sexually abused, and for abusing other children.
Sexually abnormal adults such as pedophiles usually seek out children who are lonely, vulnerable and unprotected and try to offer them friendship and security in order to abuse them. Being alone and vulnerable is frequently the emotional state of children placed outside home. This makes them easy victims for abusers.
Children with low self esteem (as is the case with many children who experienced loss) are more often exposed to mobbing, bullying and abusing behavior from other – often older – children. This is also the case for children with mental or physical handicaps. Children with severe attachment disorders will often have no sense of sexual limits and try to abuse other children.
Young people who have been physically neglected and who have been very stressed and deprived in early childhood often enter physical puberty at a younger age than normally; sometimes as early as age seven to nine. They are at risk for pregnancy earlier in life than children are in general. They become physically mature long before they are able to understand the consequences of sexual behavior.
Teenagers with low self esteem will more often than secure children offer themselves sexually to others in order to achieve social status in the teenage group, without respecting their own needs. For this reason, many young people end up in prostitution.
Early pregnancy can destroy the positive effects of placement in public care.
Teenagers placed outside home are more likely to have an early sexual debut, not to use contraception and to contract sexual diseases such as HIV and other viruses. This will often end all the good work done in their placement to help them be educated and get a job. If teenagers practice unprotected sex, nine out of ten will be pregnant within a year. Sexual ignorance probably accounts for a large part of the fact that 56 % of orphans never take the ninth grade in school and do not get a job.
The role of the caregivers: to inform and reduce risk behaviour
As caregivers you may not be able to protect the children and young people from all these risks, but as professionals you can strive to keep them informed and thereby reduce risk behaviour.
Religious and cultural reservations towards an open information policy.
In your country and culture there may be religious limitations and reservations about informing children and about helping young people avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. However, you should weigh these reservations against the extreme risks for children without parental care. This means that the normal rules for how well you inform children cannot be applied to children without parental care: children and young people without parental care can only be protected by the information and dialogues that enable them to take care of themselves. Informing children and young people about how to prepare for a normal love life and family life is part of exercising professional health policies in general.