Self-Harm Disclosures

All professionals should know what to do if a child tells them he/she is self-harming. Staff should know how to manage the requirement to maintain an appropriate level of confidentiality. This means only involving those who need to be involved, such as the designated safeguarding lead (or a deputy) in a school/college and children’s social care. Staff should never promise a child or young person that they will not tell anyone about a report of self-harm, as this may ultimately not be in the best interests of the child. It is also important to take into account 16 and 17 year olds who have chosen not to have their information shared.

Good Practice Points

  • Listen actively to the child/young person and seek to understand the situation from their point of view in a non-judgemental, respectful and empathic way. It is important to try to validate the feelings of the child/young person and understand their experience.
  • It is important to have some understanding of the risk presented, and access to guidance on assessing risk.
  • Learn about self-harming behaviour, and the difference between suicide and self-harm. Encourage staff to attend training in self-harm to support their understanding and capacity to respond to self-harm in appropriate ways.
  • It is important to remember that if someone tells you that they self-harm, it could be a sign that they trust you and are willing to share this very personal problem with you. Respond to this trust in a thoughtful and reflective way.
  • An important part of beginning to manage self-harm effectively is feeling heard and understood by another person. Some people just want to be heard and empathised with. You may need to balance this with gently asking some important questions.
  • Self-harm is not the only way for people to deal with emotional distress. Try to encourage the child/young person to seek alternative coping mechanisms. However, do not expect them to be able to stop self-harming, or develop new coping strategies immediately or in the short term.
  • If the disclosure is made in a school/college, you may be able to put the child/young person in touch with your in-house counsellor as a first step to getting additional support.
  • Be aware that social media is sometimes used by children/young people to enquire about ways to self-harm or to share details or images of their self-harming with their peers.
  • Be aware that supporting children/young people who harm themselves may evoke feelings of anxiety, frustration, repulsion, bewilderment and helplessness. It is important not to convey these feelings to the young person who self-harms. But staff need to take care of themselves – seek support when they need it; be aware of their own feelings and limitations and not offer more help than can be coped with.

Managing Disclosures for 16 and 17 Year Olds

A young persons safety is paramount but they may not wish to tell their parents about their self harm, a balance needs to be found between the young person’s rights and the need to keep them safe. Young people are deemed Gillick Competent when they have the intelligence and understanding to make their own decisions and fully understand the consequences of that decision. Young people over the age of 16 will come under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and if they have capacity to make decisions for themselves they can choose not to share information with their parents.

Young people should always be encouraged to talk to their parents about their self harm if appropriate. A young person should always be told if you are planning to share information with parents or other professionals. When talking to parents:

  • Give factual details, be non-judgemental.
  • Ask if they had any knowledge of the self harm behaviour.
  • Have resources to sign post parents to for information and support.
  • Be prepared for varying reactions from the parents, they may be cross, in denial or completely shocked.
  • Expect to have a further phone call to give more information and support once the parents have had time to process the information.