THE Children’s Society has joined Barnardo’s, the NSPCC, and the National Children’s Bureau in supporting children “exploring their gender identity”, including those undergoing hormone treatment therapy.
A statement released on Wednesday says: “As children’s charities, we believe in, support, and stand in solidarity with all children and young people who are trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming, or exploring their gender identity. We celebrate who they are and work with them to help them reach their potential.
“On matters of health treatment all children have the right to be listened to independently and have their wishes taken seriously — this includes children and young people who identify as trans and who may be undergoing hormone treatment therapy.”
Trans children and young people often lack support and understanding, the charities’ statement goes on. “Denying them agency has the potential to compound this and can put them at high risk of mental illness and emotional distress, potentially affecting their long-term future. . .
“It’s vital that trans children and young people feel listened to, understood and accepted.”
Asked to clarify their position, the Children’s Society, formally the Church of England Children’s Society, said on Thursday: “We are not making a judgement about the use of any particular medical intervention. But rather recognising that it’s critically important that the voices of young people affected are a core part of the decision-making process.”
The use of hormone blockers to treat gender dysphoria is being challenged in the High Court by 23-year-old Keira Bell, who was a recipient of them as a 14-year-old. Ms Bell now says that she regrets receiving the treatment to transition to becoming a boy, and has launched a claim against the Tavistock and Portman NHS clinic in London for providing it.
Another court case has been launched against the clinic by the mother of a 16-year-old girl with autism who is seeking to transition to live as a male.
The girl’s mother, referred to as “Mrs A”, is trying to prevent the clinic from providing the treatment, saying that children do not have the critical faculties to understand the implications of transitioning. Ms Bell and “Mrs A” are seeking a judicial review to ban anyone under the age of 18, unless allowed by a court, from receiving puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.
On Thursday, legal representatives for the Portman Trust said that the decision to provide or withhold gender reassignment therapy to children should be in the hands of clinicians. They also said that children aged ten could understand the implications of changing their gender, and could choose to halt the treatment at age 14 or 15 if they wished. Otherwise, children suffering from gender dysphoria could continue to experience distress.
A judgment is expected to follow in several weeks.
The Children’s Society was asked for an interview, but instead supplied written answers to a series of questions:
The statement you have signed says that children have the right to “have their wishes taken seriously”. Can you clarify that this includes opting for hormone treatment without parental consent? What would your response be to someone arguing that there are legal limits to children’s rights, covering e.g. consensual sex, buying alcohol and cigarettes.
Our statement is about the importance of ensuring that young people’s voices are heard in key decisions affecting their lives. We are not making a judgement about the use of any particular medical intervention. But rather recognising that it’s critically important that the voices of young people affected are a core part of the decision-making process in determining the care they receive.
This does not mean that the outcome of any decision making process is necessarily the one the child wanted, but that their thoughts and feelings are listened to and that these should be strongly considered and taken into account when decisions are made. This applies to all children, of all ages and abilities.
Every child, regardless of their circumstances, has a fundamental right to be listened to and have their wishes taken seriously about decisions which affect them. This is enshrined in article 12 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. This is a vital point to reinforce, when questions of children’s freedom to make choices, identity, and role in decision-making processes are being considered.
What would you say to parents and grandparents among your supporters who would argue that pre-pubescent children are not capable of making fully informed choices about life-changing treatment?
Throughout childhood every child is likely to face decisions which can have long term implications for their life. This may include every area of their life — from decisions from who to live with after a parental separation, or about their education, through to those about medical interventions.
The reality is that there is no “neutral” option where consent is irrelevant. There is a decision to be made one way or the other, and whatever the decision it may have long-term consequences.
The alternative to children not being actively involved in these decisions is that they are excluded. There is significant evidence that not listening to children and failing to include them in decision-making about their lives is harmful to them, with links to lower well-being and mental health risks in particular.
This does not mean their voice is the only one in the decision making process, nor that the outcome of any decision making process is necessarily the one the child wanted, but that their thoughts and feelings are listened to and that these should be strongly considered and taken into account when decisions are made. This applies to all children, of all ages and abilities.
Your charity supports many children in care who have been deprived of loving parental guidance. Do you think that they are able to make such choices before reaching adulthood?
We believe that all children should be actively included in the process of making decisions that affect their lives, this includes children or all ages, abilities and backgrounds.
This does not mean that others should not be involved. Inclusive, and shared decision-making processes, involving both the child affected and their parents or guardians, are much more likely to result in the best outcome which can receive the support of everyone affected by it.
For children who are dedicated to undergoing the process of changing their gender, do you have resources to make them aware of the implications – including whether they can reverse the process later if need be?
This isn’t an area we provide advice on but would instead signpost to the NHS.
The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust argues that treatment should be decided on a case-by-case basis. Do you agree? If so, what safeguards should be put in place?
It isn’t for us to make any judgement on how or whether medical interventions should be made. Our statement is about the importance of listening to children when making decisions about their lives.
What would your advice be to families where parents and children are in conflict over this issue?
Families can seek support from family therapy such as Relate for help resolving conflict or to LGBT support organisations.