Parents are crucial to solving our self-harm crisis

This World Mental Health Day, Spurgeons Children’s Charity is calling on commissioners in England and Wales to look at alternative solutions to the adolescent mental health crisis in this budget-cut environment.

Charity CEO Ross Hendry looks at a new family-based solution being piloted in Birmingham.

The facts are harrowing. In secondary schools across the country, at least four young people in every class are self-harmers.
Children and young people who have self-harmed once are at high risk of recurrence. And people who self-harm are 50 times more likely to kill themselves than those who don’t.

Ultimately, this should be a major public health priority. But pressure on mental health services is leaving these children and young people with limited access to support.

Spurgeons Children’s Charity has been supporting vulnerable children and their families for 150 years. With rates of self-harm in the UK rising, we felt compelled to act. We asked ourselves: how can this be addressed in 2017’s economic climate?

To tackle the problem, we first needed to look at why so many kids, as many as 70%, are falling through the gap.

In 2015 there were 248,264 young people in the UK referred to Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS.) But only around 30% of CAMHS referrals were approved for treatment.

This is because CAMHS will only give a mental health diagnosis and provide the appropriate support once their issues and behaviours have reached crisis point.

It is a fact that many of the young people that self-harm have not been diagnosed with a specific mental health condition. There are no alternatives to CAMHS, so many of these young people will simply not be accepted for treatment or face a growing waiting list.

Charities, as much as the NHS and the Government, have a crucial role to play in safeguarding all young people at risk of self-harm.

Family-based solutions are the cornerstone of all Spurgeons’ intervention work, so we looked at previous projects, which tackled child sexual exploitation, for an idea.

We believe family is key to solving the self-harm problem.

Evidence and our own experience shows that when families are involved in children and young people interventions, programmes get better results.

The stigma that still surrounds self-harm is a big barrier for parents, leaving children without vital parental support.
But we know parents want to do something about it.

Our Parent Report, an annual survey of 2000 parents, paints a picture of a society in which youngsters are struggling, parents are increasingly anxious, and there is little support for the many families that need it. Our survey found that almost half of parents worry their children have low self-esteem/ are unhappy (46%) while one in five young parents worry about the prospect of their child self-harming or feeling suicidal.

We also recently asked service providers, service users and parents about their perceptions of self-harm services. Many of the comments from professionals talked about the need for better support for parents and teachers.

To address this need, we’ve developed a project that will save money and lives. This gap in provision for young people who self-harm and their families will be addressed by our pilot project, Family Intervention for Self-Harm (FISH).

Developed with Forward Thinking Birmingham (a local replacement for CAMHS), we will run a family-based, early intervention approach to tackling self-harm in young people. Not only will our project safeguard the most vulnerable children and young people, it will also ease the strain on the public purse.

GPs, social workers, schools and other professionals can refer young people to the programme, which will reduce the number of direct referrals to Forward Thinking Birmingham. This will provide the opportunity for that service to increase the rates of young people they assess and treat who are at crisis point.

It’s hugely reassuring to see commissioners in Birmingham taking this proactive step. As a charity that thrives on partnering with other organisations, and which believes every child deserves a future, we want to hear from others who share our mission. By working together we can help give hope to every child.

This project is funded by the Big Lottery Fund’s Reaching Communities grant programme.

For more information about Spurgeons go to

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