Last week, research from the Children’s Society showed that one in ten children in the UK over the age of eight is unhappy. The underlying causes of this unhappiness may be widely debated but a 2011 study by Relate unearthed some grim findings. It concluded that of thirty 16 year olds, 8 would have experienced severe physical violence, sexual abuse or neglect; one would have experienced the death of a parent; seven would have reported being bullied; and ten would have witnessed their parents separate.
Echoing these statistics and adding to my disquiet, the NSPCC reported in 2011 that almost one in five secondary school children have been severely abused or neglected during childhood and 200,000 children in England live in homes where there is a known risk of domestic violence.
Since 2009, calls to the NSPCC Helpline about neglect and physical abuse have almost doubled, a fact that I believe can be at least partly attributed to the stresses of the recession. In Cambridge city, one in nine people now lives in households receiving Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit.
The sad irony is that while the statistics paint an increasingly alarming picture, funding cuts are seriously exacerbating the situation, and major problems are storing up for the future, both for our young people and their families, and as a growing burden for the NHS. Even though it’s generally accepted that early intervention is the key, the situation is now so dire and the referral waiting lists for professional advice and treatment so long that a huge and growing number of young people are not getting the help they need.
Some of us may be lucky enough that these issues seem far removed from our daily lives. However, the reality is that, in Cambridge and the surrounding villages, there is a huge and growing number of children and teenagers desperately in need of help.
I have been working in education all of my adult life and I know that in each and every private and state school there are children and teenagers facing challenging emotional issues of varying degrees. A small proportion of these children will undoubtedly need long-term professional treatment but the majority can be helped to find a way through their issues with just a little counselling help.
It is an absolute travesty that this situation is playing out on our doorsteps and action really needs to be taken.