Children who have lived through traumatic experiences and therefore display “difficult” behaviour need far better support, a charity has stated.
YoungMinds is calling for a Government strategy to help these children who are “too often misunderstood by the services that should support them”.
The charity’s new report, ‘Addressing Adversity’, argues that these kids don’t get the help they need because of this misunderstanding, yet they are the ones who often need it most.
“Children who grow up in difficult and complex circumstances are the most likely to develop mental health problems, more likely to become suicidal, and more likely to die young,” Dr Marc Bush, head of policy at YoungMinds.
“This simply isn’t acceptable, and if it’s not addressed, it will create an ongoing cycle of trauma. If the government is serious about tackling the mental health crisis, it must make sure that support is available to those who need it most.”
The report, which was funded by Health Education England, brings together essays by 47 leading academics and health professionals to demonstrate how traumatic experiences at a young age can have a profound impact on a child’s understanding of the world and interaction with others.
It shows that one in three lifetime mental health problems are directly linked to adverse childhood experiences - including abuse, domestic violence, prejudice or bereavement. The report also found young people who have experienced four or more adverse childhood experiences are four times more likely to have low levels of mental wellbeing and life satisfaction.
The report highlighted the issues affecting LGBT+ children, who have a “disproportionately high level of depression, self-harm and suicide”.
“At the core of this problem is a shame that has been inflicted upon [these children] so powerfully that those whom it affects often do not even realise it,” Matthew Todd, author of ‘Straight Jacket: How To Be Happy’, wrote in the report. “The difficulty for LGBT people is that, because of the childhood experience of growing up in shame, we are lucky if we avoid this kind of childhood trauma.”
Similarly, Lord Adebowale noted that traumatic experiences can also be a consequence of racial prejudices.
“Black, Asian, Arab, and other minority ethnic (BAME) children and young people grow up in a climate where they regularly experience fear, prejudice and discrimination,” he said.
“Children who migrate to the UK, take refuge here, or seek asylum may face racial prejudice for the first time, or it may trigger memories of the prejudice they have faced in their country of origin.”
If a child becomes aggressive with a school nurse who is trying to give them an injection, that could be a response to violence or drug misuse in their family." Dr Marc Bush, head of policy at YoungMinds
YoungMinds believes that too often children with complex and difficult upbringings are judged negatively due to their behaviour, which, may be a normal response to what they’ve been through. This means they are more likely to be criminalised or excluded from school, and less likely to receive the support they need – which can have a lifelong effect on their mental health.
The national charity is calling for the government to make childhood adversity and trauma a public health priority. It believes all professionals who work with children – including NHS workers, teachers, social workers and police – should have training about the effects of trauma on behaviour and clear guidance about how and when to ask about traumatic experiences.
Dr Bush added: “As a society, we need to get much better at identifying when seemingly ‘difficult’ behaviour may be a reaction to a traumatic event or a sign of emotional distress.
“If a child becomes aggressive with a school nurse who is trying to give them an injection, that could be a response to violence or drug misuse in their family – but the nurse needs clear guidance on how to identify this.
“If a teenager whose father has just died is caught shoplifting, treating them as a criminal without looking at the circumstances is unlikely to help them in the long-term.”
Dr Bush said trauma-informed care involves listening to young people and understanding their situation and their needs.
“This could mean working with gang members on the street rather than expecting them to come to a counselling appointment at the GP surgery,” he explained. “It could mean that if a child who witnesses violence at home starts self-harming, they are able to go to a quiet drop-in centre rather than sit for hours in a potentially triggering environment like A&E.
“Many professionals are already doing excellent work, but we urgently need a consistent new approach across the country. If the Government means what it says about prioritising mental health, it needs to face up to the fact that children in the most difficult and complex situations need far better support.”