By Claire Grealy | 19 Sep 2016

This article was written by Urbis consultant Joanna Farmer.

Closing the gap in sexual and reproductive health is vital, given that the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections among Aboriginal people remains higher than the non-Aboriginal population, and rates of teenage pregnancy are significantly higher too.

The Cairns Sexual Health Service (the Service) provides culturally appropriate health promotion and clinical services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Cairns and across Far North Queensland.

Recently, the Service asked Urbis to prepare a case study of the work it is doing to improve the sexual and reproductive health of young Aboriginal people. The data shows that over the past five years, the Service has contributed to improved outcomes for young Aboriginal people including a reduced rate of sexually transmitted infection and teenage pregnancy.

Visiting Cairns provided the Urbis team with a richer story, understanding the extent to which the Service has helped young people to achieve greater knowledge and control over their own health.

The Service has adapted, taking on board feedback from clients and the community, to create an environment and approach that puts the young people first.

The case study highlights a number of factors that have helped to achieve these outcomes:

  • Relationships between staff and the community are important, especially when talking about difficult issues, such as sex and relationships. Young people trust the Service staff and feel comfortable opening up. Trust is a priority.
  • Client-centred approaches recognise that the Service is there for the community and its young people. The Service has adapted, taking on board feedback from clients and the community, to create an environment and approach that puts the young people first.
  • Cultural safety is woven through the Service’s management and service delivery model. The Service has developed a strong team of Indigenous Sexual Health Workers that play a key role in developing knowledge and understanding of sexual health among young people.
  • Strong leadership supports staff within the Service, but also provides support to health staff across Far North Queensland. The team have been instrumental in creating a sexual health workforce with health and care skills, knowledge and confidence.

Past evaluations by Urbis show that these factors play a valuable role in improving sexual and reproductive health services for young Aboriginal people.

The three year evaluation of the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Early Childhood Development, and evaluation of subsequent funding for Indigenous Teenage Sexual and Reproductive Health under the 2014-15 Budget Measure demonstrated the importance of providing effective sexual health education and health promotion alongside accessible services.

Talking about sexual health remains taboo, but across Australia there are services, Cairns Sexual Helth Service being a prime example, working hard to engage young Aboriginal people to give them the tools and services they need to live a safe, healthy life