Brief Introduction & Background
CDSS has chosen the phrase “sexual and reproductive wellness” to indicate that sex and reproduction are two different aspects of a related topic and ought not be conflated, particularly when considering youth who may not be heterosexual.
Wellness is widely considered an active process that involves becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. It is something we all need support and encouragement to do well and consistently. Foster youth and non-minor dependents should be empowered to take control of their wellness and supported to learn how to do so.
The term “wellness” is used to reflect the holistic nature of our sexual lives. It’s more than just an absence of disease, it is core to our overall well-being as human beings. It reaches beyond just our physical being and into the health of our relationships to others and ourselves. Therefore, it is not just a side note about avoiding unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection, but a complex topic deeply rooted within the core goals of child welfare—safety, permanency, and well-being.
Sexual Wellness in Foster Care
Sexuality is a normal part of human development. During adolescence, young people are learning about their bodies and their independence and their desires. It is a complicated time and can be fraught with potential harm. However, sexual activity does not—in and of itself—necessitate undue risk. It is an important and healthy part of human development.
Foster youth are more vulnerable than peers their same age given that as a population they:
• often lack the support of a trusted adult who can offer them guidance throughout their development, which can create all sorts of challenges
• have a history of trauma, even if that is limited to whatever circumstance brought them into care in the first place, and trauma complicates all areas of life
• foster youth are disproportionately represented in populations of commercially sexually exploited youth
• institutional barriers often exist for youth in care that are not present for peers out of care—such as extra rules, limited transportation, and lack of privacy.
These factors can be inter-related in complex ways, but they do not have to mean a doomed future. And they are excellent reasons for us to focus on and increase the strengths and competencies of young people in care.