It’s a common occurrence, an individual with a disability has a question you don’t know how to answer. Maybe they want to go out on a date, or want privacy in their bedroom. You’re not sure what to do, or where to turn to make sure the individual’s need is being addressed while at the same time not open yourself to liability.
While there are many ways you can support the sexual health of individuals with I/DD:
- you can provide sexuality education classes,
- help parents speak with their young and grown children about sexuality,
- train staff to address sexuality in a positive, support way,
Having a Sexuality Policy is key to helping individuals get the education, support, and backing they need to have healthy sexual relationships, and helps employees feel confident about addressing these situations.
Having a sexuality policy means that there is consistency in how people respond to certain situations, time will be saved, people understand their rights and responsibilities related to these policies, people will receive the training needed to carry out these policies and will feel less anxious because they know they have the agency’s support to address these issues.
You may run up against resistance to creating policies. If things are in writing people wonder what the legal implications might be. You might hear comments like, “We don’t need to write it down because it is just the way we do things around here.” The word “policy” might make some people cringe because they feel like they become the enforcers and no one likes to be in that position. You may have heard all of these responses and others, but having a Sexuality Policy has many benefits.
How do you write a policy?
There are a couple approaches people take. One is more like a position statement. You can look at the AAIDD and Arc position statement on sexuality. This is a great foundation for thinking about policy and what you value as an agency/school.
To build on that foundation you can add specific policies and procedures. One resource, from Nova Scotia, is titled, Relationship and Sexuality Guidelines.
It covers many important topics to have policies for including social-sexual education, privacy, masturbation, intimacy aids and materials, consent, peer relationships, mutual sexual expression, birth control, pregnancy and parenting, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual abuse, and offending sexual behaviors. With each topic it reviews policy considerations, self-advocates responsibilities and staff responsibilities. As the guide says, “with rights come responsibilities, and with respect comes expectations.” Policy helps people understand their responsibilities and the expectations.
The guide also states, “no policy can adequately provide answers to all of the individual situations that may be encountered in service delivery. A policy can, however, provide a decision-making framework which ensures as much self-determination as possible. Through an inter-disciplinary team, a process can be established which attempts to involve the resident to the full extent of his/her abilities and which, if necessary, reaches a substitute decision based on the benefits and risks of all available options for the individual.”
Another resource to use is the Human Sexuality Handbook: Guiding People Toward Positive Expressions of Sexuality. They are currently revising the handbook, but it is still a great policy development resource.
The Association for Community Living
One Carando Drive
Springfield, MA 01104-3211
Phone: 413-732-0531 / Fax: 413-732-1168
Here are some questions to get you started creating a Sexuality Policy with your agency:
Is the policy….
- Sex positive?
- Written by a committee that includes people with I/DD, direct support staff, and managers?
- Is it clear and specific? Listing rights and responsibilities of each person?
- Inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities? Most of the resources for policy development aren’t up to date on sexual orientation and gender identity s you will have to be sure to incorporate those pieces in your policy.
Does the policy include:
- What you have learned from past decisions?
- A commitment to the training and education needed to carry out the policies?
- An implementation and communication plan to self-advocates, staff members, and parents?
- Specific procedures to help staff feel more comfortable addressing this topic?
Here is a sample written by Sarah Andrew-Madison from an organization, Services for Developmentally Challenged Inc., in New York City. It is specific to NY and their consent laws, but gives you a sense of what your agency policy could look like.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about policy, and how your agency/school has benefitted… Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with thoughts, comments, and any insight you have in creating and having a policy.