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Self-harm figures reinforces need to tackle mental health crisis, says LGA

The Local Government Association has warned that figures published by The Children's Society on self-harm among young people reinforces the need to tackle the crisis in children's mental health.

The charity's annual Good Childhood report revealed that almost one quarter of 14-year-old girls reported self-harming in just a year. One in six of the 11,000 children surveyed reported self-harming by the age 14 including one in 10 boys.

Vice Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, Cllr Roy Perry said: "These alarming figures reinforce the urgent need to tackle the crisis in children’s mental health.

“This is why we are calling for councils and schools to be given the funding to offer independent mental health counselling so pupils have access to support as and when they need it," he added.

Based on these figures, The Children’s Society estimates that nearly 110,000 children aged 14 may have self-harmed across the UK during the same 12-month period, including 76,000 girls and 33,000 boys.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society, said it is "deeply worrying" that so many children are unhappy to the extent that they are self-harming. “Worries about how they look are a big issue, especially for girls, but this report shows other factors such as how they feel about their sexuality and gender stereotypes may be linked to their unhappiness," he added.

The analysis of the Millennium Cohort Survey revealed that almost half of 14-year-olds who said they had been attracted to people of the same gender or both genders said they had self-harmed. Four in ten of these children had shown signs of depression and three in 10 had low well-being - both compared with one in 10 of all children.

The report, found children were least happy with school and their appearance. Nearly a quarter said they heard jokes or comments about other people’s bodies or looks all of the time while more than a fifth of those in secondary school said jokes or comments were often made about people’s sexual activity.

Both made girls feel much worse about their appearance and less happy with their life as a whole, although this pattern did not apply to boys.

The research also suggests both boys and girls can be harmed by gender stereotypes and pressure to live up to these expectations. Children felt under pressure from friends to be good looking but those who felt boys should be tough and girls should have nice clothes were least happy with life.

Matthew Reed added: “It’s vital that children’s well-being is taken more seriously and that much more is done to tackle the root causes of their unhappiness and support their mental health.

“Schools can play an important part in this and that is why we want the Government to make it a requirement for all secondary schools to offer access to a counsellor, regularly monitor children’s well-being and have their mental health provision assessed as part of Ofsted inspections.

“Issues like appearance, gender stereotypes and sexuality should be included in the new Relationships and Sex Education curriculum.

“However, early support for vulnerable children and families in the community, which can help prevent mental health problems from developing, is also vital, and ministers must urgently address the £2bn funding shortfall facing council children’s services departments by 2020," he added.

The report suggests that happiness with family relationships could be the best protection for children because it has the biggest positive influence on their overall well-being.

Cllr Roy Perry added: “Councils across the country work hard to ensure children and young people can access the support they need, however with children’s services facing a £3 billion funding gap by 2025, this is getting increasingly difficult.

“Many councils are being forced to cut early intervention work, including youth services, which helps children avoid reaching crisis point, perform better at school and avoid mental health issues in later life.

“Making sure children get the mental health support they need, when they need it, requires a root-and-branch overhaul of existing services. We need to develop a system that says yes, rather than no, to children when they ask for help.

“Government should also release the £1.7 billion promised for CAMHS services to ensure adequate and sustainable funding for local areas," he added.

The Good Childhood Report 2018

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