It’s impossible to know exactly why these figures are continuing to rise. One theory is that the more we talk about these issues, the easier it’s becoming for children to come forward to ask for help. That’s surely the preferred hypothesis, if there can be such a thing, because the alternative is the horrifying reality that our children are growing up in a world that is becoming progressively crueller and, more unbearable in which self-harm and suicide are seen by some to be the only way to escape the horror of their situations.
With services stretched to breaking point, there is a role for the Church to be a safe place for those in need, and to bring light into the hopelessness of abuse, abandonment, neglect, mental health problems and poverty affecting those in our communities. Chief executive of the NSPCC, Peter Wanless, is quoted as saying that many of the children contacting ChildLine for help do so because ‘they have no one else to turn to’, but we know that they do. We may not always be equipped to solve problems, we may not necessarily understand what people are experiencing, and there will be times when we have a duty to pass information on to other authorities, but the Church should be a safe place for any child in need. It starts with being available – perhaps providing food banks, toddler groups, after-school clubs, coffee mornings, drop-in facilities – and continues by building trusting relationships.
Parents often ask me how they would know if their child was self-harming, and my answer is always the same: know what’s ‘normal’ for your child, because it will make the ‘not normal’ so much easier to spot. If we can build relationships with children and families in our communities where they not only feel safe, but we know each of them so well that we’re able to discern when someone is in trouble and be the person they need, we won’t just be bringing Jesus into a difficult situation; we might just catch someone before they reach crisis point and begin to reverse some of the statistics of today.
Rachel Welch is project director of selfharmUK selfharm.co.uk