A new national strategy for tackling teenage pregnancy should be developed by the Scottish Government according to a report published today by the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee, following a six month inquiry into the issue.
As part of the new strategy, MSPs are calling for sexual health and relationships education to be reviewed. The Committee heard that the quality of sexual health education was inconsistent across the country and that generally it needs to begin at an earlier age. Whilst this in itself is not likely to reduce teenage pregnancy, the Committee is also recommending that contraception should to be easily accessible and young people ‘friendly’.
The Committee’s report recommends that policies to tackle teenage pregnancy are not developed in isolation, but are part of the drive to solve wider inequalities in our society.
Convener of the Health and Sport Committee Duncan McNeil MSP said:
“Firstly I want to make it clear that this inquiry was not about demonising the thousands of teenage parents that have children, some of which are planned.
“We can’t ignore that Scotland has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe, which has a long lasting impact on generations of young parents and their children.
“This is why today this Committee is calling for a new strategy to tackle teenage pregnancy, which the Scottish Government should be accountable to this Parliament for delivering on.
“Improved access to contraception or better access to high quality sexual health education, won’t in itself tackle our rates of teenage pregnancy. Our Committee is confident that implementing this package of measures will bring about the step change we need to make a real difference”.
Deputy Convener of the Health and Sport Committee Bob Doris MSP said:
“Our Committee was clear that Scotland has made progress at tackling Scotland’s rate of teenage pregnancy, partly due to some excellent initiatives in place up and down the country.
“A new strategy can drive that agenda.
“As part of this new strategy, we need central Government direction to deliver culture change to develop greater partnership working which is essential to make further progress.
“We need to make sure that at all levels there is clarity on responsibility and that local authorities have the flexibility to develop local solutions.”
The Committee’s report has come to the following conclusions:
Links between high rates of teenage pregnancy and health inequalities
- The Committee considers that teenage pregnancy needs to be recognised as a symptom rather than a condition within the wider socio-economic context.
- These factors, which include deprivation, low self-esteem and risk taking behaviour, are also factors that are aspects of health inequalities more widely. The Committee believes that addressing these health inequalities will contribute to a reduction in rates of teenage pregnancy.
Possible limitation of current policy framework
- The Committee believes that there has been much positive progress made in the national policies and drivers targeted at tackling teenage pregnancy.
- There still appears to be need for a better understanding that teenage pregnancy needs to be considered as part of wider social and economic policies.
- The Committee believes that a degree of central government direction is needed to help bring about the cultural change that is needed in local authorities and their partners to encourage them to improve their partnership working.
- The Committee recommends a new national strategy for teenage pregnancy be developed. This strategy should place issues of sexual health and teenage pregnancy firmly within the context of wider social inequalities and should recognise, in particular, the key roles of health boards, local authorities and voluntary organisations as essential partners in helping to realise a local strategy with shared outcomes.
Targets for reduction of teenage pregnancy
- In Scotland there are variations in rates of teenage pregnancy between areas with similar levels of deprivation.
- NHS boards, local authorities and other partners need to guard against fatalistic attitudes that, in areas of high deprivation, nothing can be done to prevent teenage pregnancy.
Sexual health and relationships education (SHRE)
- The Committee concludes that although there has been undoubted progress over the last decade in the quality of SHRE provision in schools, the progress has not been consistent.
- There are also questions about the level of training available for teachers involved in SHRE and the extent to which the subject, as one that does not, in itself, lead to any qualification, receives any degree of priority in schools, or indeed, school inspections.
- The Committee recognises that provision of SHRE at younger ages and at earlier stages of a child’s education has the potential to be controversial.
- Nevertheless, the Committee accepts the majority of the evidence presented to it that SHRE needs to begin earlier and that the majority of parents, many of who feel ill-equipped to discuss sexual matters with their children, would welcome and support quality SHRE provision from an early age.
- The comments by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde on being denied access to RC schools and its concerns over the lack of feedback on what SHRE is being provided in RC schools and difficulties in providing information on the board’s sexual health services for young people are worrying.
- The Committee notes the argument between NHS GG&C and the Scottish Catholic Education Service, draws the attention of the Scottish Government to it and asks that it considers these matters during the review of SHRE that the Committee has called for.
Contraception and provision of sexual health provisions
- The Committee recognises that the complexity of the issue of teenage pregnancy means that provision of contraception, is not, in itself, the whole solution.
- However, high quality, comprehensive sexual health and relationships education (SHRE) combined with easily accessible young people-friendly contraception services are key elements in the drive to reduce rates of teenage pregnancy.
- The Committee believes that schemes such as the C Card Scheme, which makes condoms available at a range of venues to 13-24 year olds at no cost, make an important contribution to ensuring contraception is easily accessible to young people.
Family nurse partnerships
- The Committee notes the evidence that the Family Nurse Partnership has the potential to be a highly valuable resource. The outcome-focused, evidence based approach has been shown to be able to transform the lives of young parents and their children.
- It is vitally important that in the case of young people who do not receive this support through FNP, other options should exist to enable them to receive the support most appropriate to their needs.
The Health and Sport Committee launched their inquiry in January.
Teenage pregnancy refers to conceptions that take place between the ages of 13 and 19 years but the main policy concern is with preventing pregnancy among young women aged under 16 years.