The Children’s Society has published it’s Good Childhood Report this week.

The report draws on qualitative research with over 65,000 children, to try and redress the lack of children’s voices in the debate about their well-being.

One of the most striking findings is that concerning self-harm among young people generally, and among teenage girls in particular.

– In a survey of 11,000 14 year olds, a quarter of girls and 1 in 10 boys had self-harmed at some point in the year

– If representative, that means around 110,000 14 year olds have deliberately injured themselves since the last report

– 76,000 girls (13,463 girls under 18 admitted to hospital last year, compared to 7,327 in 1997 – an 83% increase)

– 33,000 boys (2,332 boys under 18 admitted to hospital in 2017, compared to 2,236 in 1997 – an increase of only 4.2%)

Image courtesy of ©The Children’s Society

What are the causes?

In the years between 1995 and 2010, children’s happiness with their lives rose steadily. The current decline began and has continued to what is now a 20 year low.

“Given the multitude of factors that we know to be important for children’s well-being, the trends that we see for different aspects of well-being are unlikely to be attributable to a single policy or cultural phenomenon.” – Children’s Society Good Childhood Report 2018, p.21

AUSTERITY – the correlation between the start of the current decline in children’s happiness and the inception of austerity policies, is obvious. As families struggle to secure and maintain employment and sufficient income to make ends meet, children suffer. Outside the home, the never-ending social pressures continued unabated, adding to the burden.

SCHOOL PRESSURE – the Milllenium Cohort Survey studied children aged 10-17 and their parents across 2000 households. The obsession with testing and assessment in recent years, coupled with the decline in subjects such as art, sport, music and drama, mean children are being increasingly measured ‘academically’, without the relative relief of creative subjects.

“Analysis of the Millennium Cohort Study revealed that children aged 14 who said they were attracted to the same or both genders had markedly lower subjective well-being – and a much higher likelihood of depressive symptoms – than children who are attracted to the opposite or neither gender. This striking evidence, in combination with the findings about gender stereotypes, points to the strength of gender and sexuality norms for children from a young age. ” – Children’s Society Good Childhood Report 2018, p.21

GENDER EXPECTATIONS – the study highlights the plight of children who are attracted to the same or both sexes. Such children are more likely to be unhappy with their life, have depressive symptoms and to self-harm. Appearance and the associated social pressures of looking attractive and conforming to the ‘selfie culture’ were particular issues for girls.

DSI as coping

Deliberate self-injury has long been understood as a skewed means of coping when all else fails.

Some have posited that the difference in rates between boys and girls may be due to externalising behaviours being more socially ‘acceptable’ in boys – allowing them to let off steam more easily. Girls’ greater propensity to internalise and cover up strong emotions may drive their feelings inward and lead to an emotional overflow that is self-destructive.

It remains the case, though, that significant numbers of children are using self-harm as way to deal with the everyday, enduring pressures of contemporary life.

“Self-harm at its root is a coping mechanism like having a glass of wine or smoking a cigarette … these are all self-harming activities … most people say they started doing it as it felt good,” she said. “They did it in response to not feeling heard or not being able to articulate what was wrong. Over time it is addictive.” – Natasha Devon, MH Campaigner

Source – The Guardian – here.

Policy recommendations

The report makes a number of policy recommendations. Among them:

ASSESSMENT – Using well-being as a means of assessing children, rather than mental health or the views of parents/other adults.

SCHOOLS – continued investment in and evaluation of school counselling schemes is vital. Including a measure of children’s well-being as part of inspections could help.

STATISTICS – the gathering of well-being statistics on children should become normative for local authorities and government in England and Wales.

MONEY – the expected shortfall of £2 billion in children’s services by 2020 must be addressed as a matter of urgency (source – LGA)

Final word

As with many aspects of social policy, this report highlights the need to get our information ‘from the horse’s mouth.’

When we ask children clear questions about how they feel, we get clear answers – insightful answers.

The challenge now is to turn this information into meaningful policy and budgetary change that will promote children’s well-being and put an end to self-harming

Related previous posts

– Self-harm 1: 2400 kids can’t be wrong…

Image courtesy of ©The Children’s Society

– Self-harm 2: myths & facts…

– Self-harm 3: getting it right…

– Self-harm – boys do it too… 

More info

– Download the report summary by clicking – here.

– Download the full report by clicking – here.

– Visit the Children’s Society website…

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© Jonny Matthew 2018

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