Posted in Linda Turner, NSPCC

Child mental health

Abuse and neglect

The traumatic impact of abuse and neglect increases the likelihood of children developing a range of mental health issues – both during childhood and in later life. These include anxiety, depression, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Norman et al, 2012; Spatz Widom, 1999).

Specific types of abuse may be connected to certain mental health issues. Children who have experienced emotional abuse may be more likely to develop anxiety and depression compared with children who have experienced other types of abuse (Cecil et al, 2017; Gavin 2011). One study found that almost three quarters (74%) of young people who had experienced sexual assault developed PTSD (Lewis et al, 2019).

Abuse and neglect can also make children more vulnerable to developing more than one mental health condition at one time (known as composite mental health issues) (Chandan et al, 2019).

Providing effective mental health support for children who have experienced abuse and neglect can help them recover from its effects (NSPCC, 2019b).

Posted in Linda Turner, NSPCC

Making neuroscience more accessible: childhood trauma, the brain and mental health

Eamon McCrory, Professor of Developmental Neuroscience and Psychopathology, UCL

What the research tells us

Over the last decade, scientists have been documenting changes to children’s threat, memory and emotion regulation systems brought about by their experience of abuse and neglect.

Research has shown us that changes to the brain associated with mental health vulnerability can be measured before a child shows a diagnosable problem.

Ongoing research

In 2017 the NSPCC and the ESRC also awarded four research grants, one of which went to a longitudinal brain imaging study led by Professor Eamon McCrory at UCL.

Now in its third year, the study is looking at how childhood maltreatment affects the way children process reward.

The brain’s reward system helps us learn about positive aspects of our environment, motivates behaviour, and guides decision-making. We know that a range of mental health problems, in particular depression, are associated with irregular reward processing.

How the study will help

By learning more about how reward is affected by abuse and neglect, and how to measure those changes, we will be in a better position to develop preventative help to reduce the likelihood of mental health problems emerging.

The ongoing research aims to develop reliable tasks for an early screening tool to predict vulnerability to later mental health problems.

Initial data from the study is being analysed and UCL hope to publish their first studies by the end of the year.

Using research to benefit children

With the Childhood Trauma and the Brain resources, UCL are making neuroscience research more accessible.

Building a bridge between neuroscience and practice will mean everyone – social workers, parents and carers, teachers and researchers – working together to develop better, more effective and evidence-based models of preventative help for children.

“As a neuroscientist and clinician, I have seen first-hand how hard it can be for frontline carers and professionals to access accurate and up-to-date information from neuroscience research on abuse and neglect. This seems a great shame given the painstaking work being undertaken by many research groups across the world. Much of the valuable knowledge they produce often ends up locked away in scientific journals.”

Posted in Linda Turner, NSPCC

Celebrating 20 years of CASPAR

This week, we’re celebrating twenty years of CASPAR, our free weekly email alert containing all the developments in child protection policy, research, practice and guidance.

Since its launch in October 2000, CASPAR has contributed to sharing safeguarding information and improving practice. Over 1000 weekly alerts have been written and sent out – more than 20,000 hours of work scanning and summarising essential safeguarding knowledge and guidance.

Helping you stay up-to-date in a changing landscape

Over the last twenty years, there have been many changes impacting on children and child protection policies and guidance, including:

  • 7 government administrations and 10 ministers for children in Westminster
  • 5 government administrations in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales
  • 5 new versions of statutory guidance for England, Working Together to Safeguard Children.

More recently, CASPAR has helped professionals across the UK keep on top of the evolving and fast-moving safeguarding guidance due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“CASPAR is invaluable in keeping up to date with safeguarding matters. Wouldn’t be without it.”

Posted in NSPCC

How many children die due to abuse or neglect?

This briefing looks at what data and statistics are available about child deaths due to abuse or neglect.

Official measures are likely to be underestimations of the number of children who die due to abuse or neglect for a number of reasons, including:

  • the legal complexity of proof of homicide
  • misdiagnosed cause of death
  • abuse not being the immediate cause of death, but being a contributing factor
  • cause of death remaining unknown or unexplained.

However, based on the number of child homicides recorded by the police each year, we know that, on average, at least one child is killed a week in the UK.

Findings from the data

  • In the last five years there was an average of 62 child deaths a year by assault or undetermined intent in the UK.
  • Children under the age of one are the most likely age group to be killed by another person, followed by 16- to 24-year-olds.
  • Child homicides are most commonly caused by the child’s parent or step-parent; whilst adolescent homicides are most commonly caused by a stranger, friend or acquaintance.
Posted in NSPCC

Making neuroscience more accessible: childhood trauma, the brain and mental health

Today sees the launch of new resources to help bridge the gap between neuroscience and frontline practice.

An animation, guidebook and set of videos about childhood trauma and brain development have been created by University College London (UCL) in a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The resources, which are freely available, can be accessed here.

The resources are based on research, looking at how children’s brains adapt to abusive or neglectful environments in ways that help in the short term but increase risk of mental health problems in the future.

“We hope that a greater understanding of neuroscience research can help frontline professionals and carers to reframe their understanding of childhood trauma – providing a new lens through which to understand – and help – the children in their care.”

Eamon McCrory, Professor of Developmental Neuroscience and Psychopathology, UCL

Posted in NSPCC

Toxic stress: the effects of stress on child development

Everyone experiences stress, and learning how to cope with stresses is an important part of child brain development (Shonkoff et al, 2014).

Some stress can be ‘positive’, such as solving problems or preparing for an exam. With adult or peer support, these experiences can help children develop coping and concentration skills that will help in later life.

Other stresses can be ‘tolerable’. For example, children are usually able to cope with bereavement if they have the right ‘buffers’ or support from parents, carers, friends and family.

But exposure to prolonged or repeated adverse situations, such as child abuse and neglect, can cause ‘toxic stress’: an overactive stress response in children where they start to feel more stressed more often and for longer periods, which can disrupt the building of healthy brain architecture (Shonkoff et al, 2014).

This can affect children’s physical and cognitive development, including:

  • a weakened immune system
  • problems with memory and learning
  • a reduced ability to control one’s moods or emotions
  • slower information processing

(Crowley, 2017; Shonkoff et al, 2014).

Posted in NSPCC

How childhood trauma affects child brain development

Our brains develop from before birth and into adulthood (Siegel and Bryson, 2012). But there are key ‘sensitive periods’ during early childhood and adolescence where children and young people’s brains are more malleable, making them more susceptible to positive or negative experiences (Shonkoff et al, 2008).

What happens during a child or young person’s life in these periods can have a significant effect on a child’s brain development.

Positive experiences throughout childhood help to build healthy brains. Conversely, childhood trauma and abuse can harm a child’s brain development. However, positive experiences, caring relationships and support services can reduce the harmful effects of negative experiences and help a child’s brain continue to develop in a healthy manner (Shonkoff et al, 2015).

Although it’s beneficial to provide children with positive experiences as early as possible, our brains always have the potential to change and grow. It’s never too late to give a child or young person positive brain building experiences.

> Find out more about the adolescent brain in our How safe are our children? report for 2020

Posted in NSPCC

Trauma and child brain development training

Who is this course for?

This course is designed for anyone who works with children and families, who is looking to inform their practice by learning about child brain development and a trauma-sensitive approach to working with families.

It will be particularly useful for anyone involved in supporting families facing adversity and/or children who have experienced abuse, neglect or other adverse childhood experiences.

Organisations who have taken this training session include:

Posted in Alienation, NSPCC


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Posted in Alienation, Child abuse, Child Maltreatment, Child Protection, NSPCC

Recognising and responding to abuse

How disclosure happens

Children and young people may disclose abuse in a variety of ways, including:

  • directly– making specific verbal statements about what’s happened to them
  • indirectly – making ambiguous verbal statements which suggest something is wrong
  • behaviourally – displaying behaviour that signals something is wrong (this may or may not be deliberate)
  • non-verbally – writing letters, drawing pictures or trying to communicate in other ways.

Children and young people may not always be aware that they are disclosing abuse through their actions and behaviour.

Sometimes children and young people make partial disclosures of abuse. This means they give some details about what they’ve experienced, but not the whole picture. They may withhold some information because they:

  • are afraid they will get in trouble with or upset their family
  • want to deflect blame in case of family difficulties as a result of the disclosure
  • feel ashamed and/or guilty
  • need to protect themselves from having to relive traumatic events.

When children do speak out it is often many years after the abuse has taken place (McElvaney, 2015). Continue reading “Recognising and responding to abuse”