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Relationship resources . . . YMCA Mid and South Canterbury Mates and Dates facilitators (back from left) Tash Dominey, communications manager Michele Keggenhoff and Craig Courtis and (front, from left) Jo Skudder and Cath Slee have started the programme in several South Canterbury high schools. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

by Greta Yeoman

A new programme about healthy relationships, consent and identifying potentially harmful situations is being rolled out to secondary schools around South Canterbury.

The Mates and Dates programme, funded by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), is being taught in secondary schools by the YMCA Mid and South Canterbury team.

Run over about five weeks during school health lessons, the programme looks at five main topics – healthy relationships, consent, identity, gender and sexuality, when things go wrong and keeping safe together. The topics progress at each year level.

The programme was first piloted in 2014 and expanded elsewhere around the country last year.

“It’s exactly what you want in terms of students knowing they can reach out for help.”

So far, the YMCA has been working in, or has sessions scheduled at, Timaru Boys’ High School, Craighead Diocesan School, Mackenzie College, Roncalli College, Geraldine High School, Mt Hutt College and St Kevin’s College in Oamaru.

YMCA communications manager Michele Keggenhoffsaid the organisation had approached ACC about the contract last year, as it was a subject that fitted in nicely with topics taught in the organisation’s resiliency toolkit programme.

Ms Keggenhoff said the YMCA’s reach through South Canterbury, to Ashburton and down to Oamaru meant a programme like Mates and Dates could reach rural areas that might otherwise prove hard to access.

It is funded by ACC, as part of the organisation’s prevention work.

As well as supporting people who are injured (whether psychologically or physically), the corporation also has to look at ways to prevent incidents, which was why Mates and Dates was started.

ACC states 15 to 24-year-olds are the group most at risk from partner violence involving current and ex-partners, which was why targeting the programme at high school pupils made sense.

Facilitator Cath Slee said the programme had a big focus on what to do if someone or their friend was potentially at risk from sexual or dating violence, as well consent in relationships (both dating or otherwise) and information around diversity of gender and sexuality.

Ms Keggenhoff said many principals had been supportive of the programme, particularly as it involved already-trained facilitators teaching the lessons, rather than requiring teachers to understand and teach it themselves.

Ms Slee also pointed out that while pupils could know the YMCA staff from previous sessions regarding the resiliency toolkit, they were often more open to opening up around “an outside group”.

The team had a “question box” available for pupils to put questions in, and some of them so far had been “really good”, Ms Slee said.

These had included questions around consent, drug and alcohol use, and even one query from a pupil about “how do I tell my parents that I’m gay”, she said.

“It’s exactly what you want in terms of students knowing they can reach out for help.”