sexedThe National Children's Bureau and Sex Education Forum have announced that they have secured funding from Comic Relief to develop a sex and relationships education (SRE) programme to promote healthy relationships. The programme will engage with young people in their early teens that are at a higher risk of sexual exploitation.

Evidence shows that a broad programme of sex and relationships education that starts early helps protect young people from poor sexual health and harmful relationships. The government recommends strengthening actions to prevent sexual exploitation in its Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan, recognising that SRE supports children in making safe and informed choices.

Any child or young person can experience sexual exploitation, but children and young people in and leaving the care system are at a particularly high risk. Young people who are homeless and those caught up in the criminal justice system are also in need of targeted support. These young people often receive little or no SRE from school because their education is typically disrupted, and they may have had very little discussion about growing up at home and difficult experiences of family relationships.

'SRE in school is falling short'
Young people also say that the quality of SRE in school is falling short - with more than half of young people (56%) saying they did not learn 'what is good and bad in a relationship' in school (Sex Education Forum, 2008). This is supported by Ofsted's recent report stating that SRE needs improvement in over a third of schools, and that there is not enough focus on relationships in secondary school SRE (Ofsted, 2013). Ofsted are concerned that this inadequacy may leave children and young people vulnerable to inappropriate sexual behaviours and sexual exploitation because "they have not been taught the appropriate language or developed the confidence to describe unwanted behaviours or know where to go to for help".

Young people will be closely involved in the design of 'Lessons in Love' to ensure that it reflects the real-life experience of young people who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Expert practitioners will be engaged in a national scoping exercise to identify existing good practice. The project will result in a flexible resource ideal for use with small groups of younger teens identified to be at risk of sexual exploitation. A 'training the trainer' model will be used to create a nation-wide group of practitioners that are skilled and confident to deliver the programme.

The project will draw on the expertise of the National Children's Bureau's health and social care team who have worked extensively with looked after children and young people in secure settings. The Sex Education Forum will provide specialist input on evidence-based good practice for SRE programme design