Vulnerable or abused children are struggling to receive appropriate care, leading to problems in later life, a new report by charity YoungMinds has said.
The report, Beyond Adversity, states that some services are too focused on challenging behaviour, which can stigmatise or criminalise normal responses to childhood adversity and trauma.
‘The last thing vulnerable children need is to be re-traumatised by services that should be helping them,’ said Sarah Brennan, chief executive of YoungMinds. ‘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.’
According to the report, roughly 30% of adult mental health conditions relate directly to adverse childhood experiences. However, despite this, little is being done to help traumatised children, with one in five local authorities neglecting to cover the needs of children and young people who face adversity and complexity in their lives.
‘If a teenager who’s being abused joins a gang to find a sense of belonging, but ends up in a young offenders’ institution, it can lead to a career of crime and violence when the issues could have been addressed early on,’ said Ms Brennan.
The report recommends fast-tracking children for mental health support when they need it, even if they do not meet the usual thresholds for those services. Additionally, healthcare professionals and others who work with children need to improve their understanding of how traumatic childhood experiences can affect behaviour.
‘Across the board, services need to focus less on "correcting" behaviour, and more on identifying and addressing the underlying causes of childhood trauma,’ added Ms Brennan. ‘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.’