Reproductive Health/Family Planning Services for Young People

Guest Post by Nandita Thatte, leader of the ‘Implementing Best Practices’ (IBP) Initiative at WHO. The IBP Initiative is a network of over 60 organizations committed to supporting the dissemination and use of evidence based guidelines and programmatic practices in family planning and reproductive health through innovative knowledge exchange and collaborative partnerships.

I would argue that “what” types of information and Reproductive Health/Family Planning services youth need are the same as what adults need!

That is, rights-based, good quality services provided by a well-trained unbiased provider who offers comprehensive counseling and provision of a wide range of affordable contraceptive methods in a private and confidential manner and in a clean, well maintained and safe environment.  That said, there are ways to improve the mechanisms in “how” best to improve access and services for young people. Below are some tools and strategies we have found useful in thinking about FP/RH programming for young people.

As others have mentioned, UNESCO recently published International technical guidance on sexuality education which outlines strategies to target both in-school and out of school young people with comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information. It is true that needs may differ by age and certain strategies are more appropriate for older youth than younger children. One way to engage very young adolescents (VYAs) (ages 10-14) and children is to explore interventions that address some of proximate factors that can influence FP/RH such as gender norms and equity. Save the Children and the Institute for Reproductive Health have developed and tested some innovative strategies and curricula using games to help address these norms in places such as Nepal. The evaluation of this intervention showed significant changes in perceptions of gender norms and gender equity among both young girls and boys who received the intervention compared with those that did not.

Another useful resource is a 2009 WHO published report: Generating demand and community support for sexual and reproductive health services for young people: A review of the literature and programme which interestingly, showed that out of school sexual and reproductive health (SRH) education session actually allow for more open, participatory discussions compared with in-school education. The HIP Evidence Brief on Community Group Engagement also suggests that when combined with other community mobilization activities, such education sessions can yield more sustainable changes in knowledge about FP/RH topics. 

What is the difference between a quality of care and a rights-based approach?

A comprehensive review by Population Council on “How does quality of care relate to rights-based family planning programs”, outlines in more detail key differences. In general, a rights-based approach is more comprehensive and encompasses broader programmatic constructs such as autonomy, self-determination, equity and accountability. A rights-based approach also applies to both those who are served and not served, which in the case of young people and other potentially vulnerable or marginalized populations, is especially important.

WHO recently published guidance for Ensuring human rights in the provision of contraceptive information and services. This has been supplemented by an easy to use Checklist to help ensure quality of care in contraceptive information and services, based on human rights standards.

Finally, though our work with the IBP Initiative, we have learned that one of the best ways to identify ‘what’ youth need when it comes to FP/RH is to ask them! And get them involved in a meaningful and sustainable way. As IBP, we have recently welcomed several new youth-led organizations into the IBP Consortium and have actively engaged them to help inform how we further engage young people in our family planning and reproductive health work.

Click on the links below to check out some of the innovative strategies these organisations use to engage young people in sexual and reproductive health education and services. Children for Health thanks Nandita for her contribution!