8. Engaging with Young People about Sexual Wellness

We have to ensure our engagement is medically accurate, age and developmentally appropriate, trauma informed, strengths based, culturally sensitive, and LGBTQ inclusive.

Medically Accurate
• Use simple and direct language
• Try to avoid slang, nicknames for body parts, and euphemisms
• If you aren’t sure, look it up together.
• Use it as a modeling moment for how to safely learn about sex online or at the library
• Don’t limit information by gender
• For example, everyone needs to understand menstruation and pregnancy, not just young people who are identified as female. All genders should be given equivalent access to information.

Age and Developmentally Appropriate
• Social, cognitive, and biological development are all important to assess
• Physical development will not always match social or cognitive development
• None of these will necessarily align with age
• Development is fluid and not always linear
For example, trauma can cause disruption of development—regression or more mature behavior
• Checking frequently for understanding and comprehension is the only way to be sure you’re delivering information in an appropriate way.

Trauma-Informed Engagement Basics
There is a massive amount of information about trauma-informed engagement with young people. There is simply not enough time in this
course to go into detail. But, all case workers should have a solid understanding of the principles of trauma-informed care, and should apply it to all interactions about sexual and reproductive health that they have with youth.
• You don’t have to be an expert to be sensitive and careful. You will not always know when a young person has experienced trauma that will be part of your experience together. It is safe to assume that all children in foster care have at least one adverse experience that may have caused them to experience trauma.
• We should approach everyone with the same desire to avoid triggering whether we are aware of previous trauma or not
• Offer a plan before you start the conversation: For example: “We will take it slowly and you can give me a signal at anytime if you need me to check in with you or stop.” Be prepared to help the youth manage their triggers.
• Ask young people if they are aware of topics or words that may stress them out, be upsetting, or trigger their trauma, what they would like you to do if they do experience a trigger, and how you can make the conversation as safe as possible while accomplishing what needs to be done to fulfill their rights.
• There are resources available and it is always the right thing to ask for support when challenges arise. There are resources in the CalSWEC Toolkit and the CDSS Healthy Sexual Development website.

Culturally Sensitive Engagement
Everyone’s sexuality is influenced by culture
• Community and culture are central to life experience. Race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, sexual identity, religion, geography, and nationality all influence sexual development and wellness.
• Carefully consider the unique individual you are working with and their specific life experiences and community context. Each youth is part of and influenced by their specific community and cultural context. Always avoid judgement, assumptions, and shame. Be careful not to impose your own cultural influences on to youth whose may be different.
• There are strengths to be identified and amplified in each young person’s cultural community
• There may also be unique obstacles to wellness presented by cultural factors
• Aim to promote healthy behavior without judgement