<- Overview

CSE, crises, and training

Skills acquired through training are essential for providing effective comprehensive sexuality education to young people. Training empowers and gives security to the trainers when they are making and preparing sessions and other learning activities and resources. Training helps to ensure the safety of the trainees and the confidentiality of the questions asked. Ultimately it allows the dissemination of reliable and science-based information and serves as a form of empowerment and freedom of informed choices for facilitators.

Why training matters before a crisis

Preparing and training for a crisis allows organizations to function as effectively as possible during crisis moments. Here are a few tips and points to consider including in your preparation training:

  • Have a crisis-response person. This person should, ideally, attend large scale training offered through local, national, and international organizations that specifically focus on crisis preparedness. This will ensure your organization is kept up to date on the best global thought on potential crises and crisis response plans.
  • Collectively create a communications plan among staff members, volunteers, and others who are integral to the work of your organization that addresses communications interruptions, including both physical and digital access. Make sure that everyone has both digital and paper access to the plan in the event that one or the other becomes difficult to access.
  • Regularly revisit the organizational crisis preparation plans with staff, volunteers, and others who need to know. Integrating this content as a normal part of your training conversations ensures that folks new to the organisation will be caught up to date quickly and also that those who have been involved for longer don’t forget the plans.

Collectively these training points will support your organization, staff, volunteers, and others will the necessary components to continue providing the necessary information associated with CSE as effectively as possible when (rather than ‘if’) a crisis occurs.

Why training matters during a crisis

The importance of training for comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) facilitators is often respected and adhered to in non-crisis times. However, when crises emerge, maintaining the outlay of attention and resources on training can be more difficult. It nevertheless remains as important as – if not more important than – training during non-crisis times. Acquisition of new knowledge and skills improves the efficiency and effectiveness of the content, maximises time and resources, and reaches young people more quickly and more effectively than when staff and volunteers hesitate to continue their mission due to crisis-related barriers.

Staff and volunteers can only deliver CSE via changing platforms and in difficult times to young people if they have training that contains adequate and up-to-date information about those platforms and the ways that difficult times interact with the experiences associated with sex and sexuality. For example, at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, CSE facilitators needed training and support around appropriate Zoom protocols and additional information about the safety issues associated with sexting. However, many of them did not receive this training and either were unable to reach their target audience or did so by guessing at the necessary knowledge.

Given the expansive nature of digital resources and crisis theory, it is not necessary to wait to provide training that would be applied during a crisis. Training prior to crisis situations can provide staff and volunteers with the skills to deal with the constant changes that may occur during a crisis. Pre-crisis crisis training can provide staff and volunteers with the tools to respond to the challenges of access, attention, communication and turmoil in critical ways.

How to train when you don’t have answers of how to continue in a crisis environment

One of the primary challenges to providing training before or during a crisis is projecting what information will be necessary to carry forward with CSE education during a specific crisis. For example, some crises may push people away from being in physical contact with each other while others may bring people physically together in unforeseen ways (as with a weather event that forces people to share storm shelters or evacuation facilities).

However, now that we are collectively more aware, as a field, of the ways that our work providing CSE could be disrupted, we are also more prepared to project and create novel solutions to novel crises before they occur and as they are occurring. Indeed, it is the collective awareness and expanded skill sets that will allow the field of comprehensive sexuality educators to survive and thrive during times of crisis. Among our ranks and those of our colleagues and collaborators there are professionals and volunteers who have the necessary knowledge and skills to continue CSE during any crisis situation that may evolve.

Creating training protocols to allow CSE to respond to novel and potentially devastating situations where there was nothing before requires determination, collaboration and imagination. Here are a few elements to keep in mind as critical during the process:

  • The training should ideally deliver the content to staff and volunteers in the same format that they should deliver CSE content to young people. This allows them to learn the theory and ideas and also have them modelled at the same time. For example, if an organization plans to use an image-based social media platform (like Instagram), they should create image-based guidelines for staff on how to use that platform for CSE purposes.
  • Consider the evolving needs of the target audience and incorporate that information into the training. It is likely that staff and volunteers would also be experiencing the same crisis, and so may not be able to take their participants’ evolving needs into account without explicit guidance.
  • Consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and reduce the amount of content that is provided to staff, volunteers and the target CSE audience. When managing a crisis, everyone involved will dedicate substantial amounts of their available capacity into their basic needs. This means that they are less able to consider their psychological and self-fulfilment needs. While this does not mean that CSE learning (or training on how to implement it) is any less important, it does mean that many people will need to move more slowly through that content. It may be necessary to reduce the content by as much as half.
  • Count on the collaboration and active involvement of the young people themselves. This requires connecting with youth before a crisis so that you can continue the organizational relationship during it. They will be able to provide access to other young people, current commentary on youth needs and energy to be effective at supporting their communities of friends and peers.
  • Encourage the training participants to be involved in the planning and implementing of the training. This may mean that the training becomes more of a collective of professionals, and that’s okay, particularly if no one is inherently an expert because the crisis is novel and quickly evolving. If everyone takes portions of the content that is needed for the completed training and becomes an expert on that small portion, and then shares what they know with the other participants, everyone is able to increase their skills and knowledge in far-reaching and impressive ways.

Taken collectively, and put together into a crisis-responsive training, these recommendations allow for staff and volunteers to connect and reconnect with their CSE work, to be prepared to manage evolving needs and to know how to expand their knowledgebase. All of this equals higher staff and volunteer moral and commitment to the organization and its goals.

Training topics for providing digital CSE during a crisis

Regarding what to provide training on during a crisis situation, the specifics will depend substantially on quickly evolving needs of the situation. Here is a list to get started:

  • The ability to seamlessly use the tools deemed necessary based on The Digital Landscape section of this document. Digital tools training cannot be overlooked. While it may seem that many digital tools are intuitive – and they sometimes are – many people feel hesitant to explore for fear of doing something wrong.
  • The current social media tools most frequently used by the target population. Because social media tools change frequently, are highly location and topic based and young people are notoriously at the forefront of the evolution of social media, many staff and volunteers will be unfamiliar or only passingly familiar with the platforms that young people are most likely to use. Maintaining a presence on those platforms and getting information to young people in those spaces will always have the strongest results.
  • The concerns of parents and other caregivers as they apply to sexuality during a crisis moment, along with caregiver availability, may be a dynamic and changing element of CSE. Striving to provide caregivers with as many tools and information as possible while maintaining participant confidentiality may require different approaches during a crisis. Work together with staff and volunteers to draft evolving protocols that focus on safety and respect. For more information, see the Safety Considerations section of this document.
  • When a shift to digital CSE is required due to a crisis, it is likely that other elements of young peoples’ lives are also moving online. This shift requires staff and volunteers to increase their availability to discuss topics like sexting, cyberbullying, online sex, grooming, pornography and non-consensual content sharing. Indeed, all sexual connections, both good and bad, have the potential to exist both on- and off-line during a crisis. But with increased focus on a digital landscape for all contact, they may be more readily experienced through that format than IRL.
  • Digital group dynamics function differently than in-person groups function. Staff and volunteers should be prepared for this difference and ways that they will need to accommodate through digital tools like synchronous polling and breakout sessions as alternatives to in-person group building exercises. These structural differences are important to consider in both synchronous and asynchronous environments. The How to teach section of this document has more information on this topic.
  • Finally, how to stay in touch with young people from their region and their immediate concerns and questions so that the programs they are creating are responsive will allow them to create the most effective interventions possible.