Playing it Safe: Promoting healthy relationships for teens with developmental disabilities

Story by Megan Evans

The Canadian Red Cross partnered with the University of Saskatchewan, College of Nursing to deliver the Respect Education curriculum, focused on healthy youth relationships. This includes discussion about self esteem, expression of gender, and respectful dating relationships.

Ten high school students from Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools and five nursing students were trained to deliver the Healthy Youth Relationship curriculum utilizing a train the trainer model. The high school students take a leadership role in delivery of the educational program under the supervision and mentorship of the nursing students. University students from other disciplines (e.g. Social Work and Educational Psychology) are also involved in the mentorship role.  

“It’s great to work with enthusiastic teens and to give them the tools they need to be leaders in the present, and hopefully they continue that work and will be leaders in the future as well,” says Canadian Red Cross Associate Scott McHenry.

In this training program, funded by the Community Initiatives Fund, particular emphasis is placed on the skills required to deliver the knowledge to peers with varying degrees of cognitive abilities. The secondary students plan activities and deliver the content under the supervision of the nursing students, who in turn gain practical public health experience; it’s a program that benefits everyone involved.

 “Nursing often involves community and individual education,” says Dr. Lee Murray, Associate Professor, University of Saskatchewan, College of Nursing, “So this type of education and practical experience is valuable for our students...and there is often a misperception that adolescents with developmental disabilities don’t or won’t be involved in an intimate relationship with a peer. The risk for sexual abuse of this particular population is very high.  Adolescents with developmental disabilities need to protect themselves from abuse while appreciating and having the opportunity to develop an intimate and healthy relationship with someone they care for.”

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