Vulnerable children are being “re-traumatised” by incompetent health services intended to help them, a mental health charity has warned.
A report by YoungMinds has found that schools, social workers, police and NHS staff are among those inadvertently causing children to relive traumas because of “fundamental misunderstandings” about how to interpret their behaviour.
Titled Beyond Adversity, the report notes: “Children who have been neglected, abused, bereaved or faced prejudice may communicate their feelings by being aggressive, self-destructive, withdrawn or highly sexualised.
“As a result, they are often treated as ‘the problem’. This means the cause of their trauma is never addressed and they don’t receive the mental health care they need.
A spokesperson for the NSPCC said it is a “travesty” vulnerable children are being “treated as the problem”.
They told The Independent: “Instead of dismissing them as troublemakers, it’s crucial that professionals are trained so that they can spot signs of abuse and investigate why a child might be behaving in such a way.
“For too long abused children have been left to cope with the emotional and mental aftermath of abuse, that’s why the NSPCC’s It’s Time campaign is calling on therapeutic support for all abused children so that they can overcome their traumatic experiences.”
Deanna Neilson, Action for Children’s Head of Safeguarding, said the report highlights the “lack of a coordinated approach” from professionals.
She told The Independent: “Young people are subjected to physical and sexual abuse, race hate and homophobic hate crimes and the impact cannot be underestimated. Childline has reported that their counselling for suicidal young people is at its highest level and our professional approaches in social work, psychiatry and other agencies need to move away from a solely clinical diagnosis model to dealing with the roots of young peoples’ traumatic behaviour.
Calling for a national body with representatives from social services, the NHS, schools and the police, Ms Neilson added: “This requires a broader and shared understanding from all our professional agencies on the causes of traumatic behaviour using evidence-based models of practice that result in the reduction of trauma and increase emotional wellbeing.”
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said in a statement: “Children who have been abused or neglected are at greater risk of mental health problems but they often don’t get the support they need.
Ms Longfield said the report echoed research she carried out earlier this year, which found 70,000 children referred for mental health support in England in 2015 were sent away without help, including some who had attempted suicide.
She added: “Children coping with the emotional and psychological trauma of abuse may present challenging behaviour which a range of professionals may not see beyond.
“All professionals who work with children need to be acutely aware that such behaviour may potentially be a sign of abuse or neglect and know what to do should they suspect it.”
One in three adult mental health problems in originate from childhood trauma, according to the report, including abuse, neglect, taking on adult responsibilities, prejudice and bereavement.
The charity has called on services to fast-track mental health support for children who’ve had traumatic experiences, for understanding of behaviour to improve and for the government to establish an expert group to ensure consistent treatment across the country.
Sarah Brennan, Chief Executive of YoungMinds, said in a statement: “The last thing vulnerable children need is to be re-traumatised by services that should be helping them.
“If a young person who has been neglected reacts to their feelings by being aggressive at school, and is excluded, it reinforces the neglect and low self-worth that they originally experienced.”
Ms Brennan said childhood abuse can lead to a “career of crime and violence” if not treated properly, adding: “Across the board, services need to focus less on ‘correcting’ behaviour, and more on identifying and addressing the underlying causes of childhood trauma.
“There are social and financial gains for the young person – but also the whole of society by doing this. Not doing anything makes no sense at all.”
Alistair Burt, Minister for Mental Health, said in response to the report: “We have launched the biggest transformation in young people’s mental health, funded by £1.4billion over this Parliament. This is one of the greatest investments the sector has seen, supporting a five-year plan with backing across the health system.
“Local NHS services must follow our lead by increasing the amount they spend on mental health and making sure the right care is always available.”
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