Childline receives eight calls a day about gender identity issues

Calls by children to NSPCC helpline doubles, mirroring increase in referrals to clinics of young transgender people

Childline has been receiving an average of eight calls a day from children and adolescents about gender dysphoria and transgender issues, more than double the number received the year before.

Record numbers of children sought counselling about gender identity from the NSPCC’s helpline during 2015-16, with 2,796 calls being made compared with 1,299 calls in the previous 12 months.

Childline received calls from children as young as 11 who said their biological sex did not match their gender identity. The calls ranged from anxiety about telling parents, experience of transphobic bullying and mental distress caused by long delays in receiving medical treatment.

Because Childline is a confidential service they do not keep records on the number of individual children and teenagers who contact the service and say it is probable that some have called multiple times throughout the year.

It said children aged 12 to 15 were the most likely to call the helpline about gender identity issues and that 260 of the calls on this subject were from 11-year-olds.

The doubling of calls to Childline mirrors increases in referrals of young people to gender identity clinics across the UK. The Guardian reported in July that referrals to the Tavistock clinic, which is only centre for children and adolescents in England, doubled from 697 in 2014-15 to 1,398 in 2015-16. There was also a twofold increase in referrals of children and adolescents to the Sandyford clinic in Glasgow, from 90 in 2014 to 178 in 2015.

Childline first began “tagging” calls related to gender identity in 2012 when trans issues began coming up regularly in the service’s counselling rooms. It has been monitoring how many calls they get on the subject since.

“I don’t think we can be clear in why there is a big increase in the number of calls. I think we’re slowly trying to talk more openly about trans issues,” said Emily Cherry, head of children and young people participation at the NSPCC.

She added that Childline counsellors were often the first adults young people talk to about being trans and that teenagers often called to seek advice about how to do so to parents and carers.

“We’re hearing about a huge amount of anxiety about talking to trusted adults about transitioning, one thing we give them is confidence and help with finding the words to talk to parents,” said Cherry.

Felix, 19, a university student from Plymouth, was born female and began questioning his gender identity at 17. He did not call Childline during that period, but understands why trans children are reaching out to the service.

“For a lot of people it’s easier to come out to people you don’t know, whether that’s on the phone or on the internet. It’s testing the water,” he said. “I think a lot of young people will come out on Childline because they know they’ll get support. If the first person a young person comes out to is their parent and they react badly, that’s so hard, it’s a sense of betrayal really.”

One child who had called Childline in 2015-16, a 16-year-old trans boy, said he recently came out to his parents, but their response had been transphobic and “really horrible”. He told a counsellor: “They won’t accept who I am and it makes me feel awful. Because I’m feeling so down, I have started to cut myself.”

Cherry added that bullying – both online and in schools – and the significant impact on mental health of long delays in receiving medical treatment, were also reported by young trans people as reasons for their calls.

Among those who called was a 13-year-old who identifies as a boy; he said he was regularly bullied via social media about being transgender.

“They constantly send me hateful messages and tell me to kill myself,” he said. “I think it’s someone at school as they seem to know things about me. I have tried blocking them but they make new accounts so I just can’t escape it.”

Another child, a 15-year-old who identifies as a girl, told a Childline counsellor: “I came out as trans last year and wish I’d never said anything. People shout at me every day and call me stupid and ugly. I can’t cope anymore and I wish I could escape from everything.”

Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “We cannot call ourselves a modern society if we stigmatise children just because they feel different. It is vital that children have support otherwise, as they tell us all too often, they suffer. When a child is made to feel ashamed about who they are, it can trigger serious mental health issues and crippling shame.”

Any child or young person who wants to talk about trans issues can call Childline on 0800 1111. Any adult who needs some advice or wants to talk can call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000.


Kate Lyons

The GuardianTramp

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