Today The Times published a piece of investigative journalism that follows on from long-standing safeguarding concerns around children. The service under scrutiny at the Tavistock reacted by rejecting the claims. This, however, is potentially a child safeguarding crisis in the making. One might now ask, is this Government up to the job of dealing with the brewing scandal? Last year we learned that Penny Mordaunt MP, in her role as Minister for Women & Equalities, had initiated an inquiry into the extremely large increase in the number of children presenting as wanting to change gender. What’s happened to her inquiry? These matters are too important for the services involved to be left to investigate themselves.
Over the past decade, the percentage increase for referrals of girls wanting to be changed into boys was 4,400%. Mordaunt expressed her concerns at the rate of increase, and asked her staff to investigate the reasons, not least because the ‘transition’ process is not ‘just’ about wearing gendered clothes, hair, etc, but can involve medical procedures and some of the children involved in that growing cohort were young - the youngest reportedly being, at that time, just four years old. A lot of people’s concerns, including concerns expressed by medical practitioners, were focused on the Tavistock and its services, and the alleged use of drugs being given ‘experimentally’ to children.
For a politician behaving properly, there can be no fudges around children’s safeguarding. Where concerns are raised, the only correct response - and this is a response that politicians have a legal duty of care to undertake - is to investigate those concerns or have professionals investigate those concerns and report back to the politician. You don’t ignore the concerns; or kick inquiries into the long grass. Concerns about children are serious, significant and they must be properly examined, followed by timely and transparent reporting, in order to identify poor practice, support victims, exonerate the innocent, and recognise good practice.
If there’s nothing to hide, then a child safeguarding inquiry would surely be welcome? In the open? All facts, theories, clinical trial data and follow up data, agendas laid bare?
Unfortunately, Mordaunt’s inquiry seems to have gone awfully quiet. This isn’t good for anybody involved. Thus when Penny Mordaunt agreed to participate in a (non-live) Mumsnet webchat to mark International Women’s Day on 8th March 2019, a number of its users took the opportunity to ask about aspects of children’s safeguarding and the Tavistock situation. (Mumsnet is a very big and influential website based in the UK, claiming 14 million unique users a month.)
One established user asked:
Q. My question is about the Tavistock Clinic and GIDs. Children were given experimental drugs euphemistically known as 'puberty blockers'. This has emerged as a major safeguarding scandal. Furthermore, follow-up studies of the children post-18 have not taken place, which is inexcusable in medicine and science. It is known, though, that harm has been caused. And also that money has been made. Will you assure us that the promotion of such harm in schools will stop immediately?
Penny Mordaunt took a much longer time than expected to choose a selection of questions and prepare answers, and they didn’t come through till nearly a week after International Women’s Day (on the evening of Thursday 14th March), so she had plenty of time to prepare her responses. She ignored a very large number of questions (see below), but she did answer the question above after a fashion; and this is her answer, in full:
Answer: The Gender Identity Development Service, which is more commonly referred to as ‘the Tavistock’ is the only NHS gender identity service for under-18s in England and Wales and is not promoted in schools. This is separate from Gender Identity Clinics for adults, of which there are seven in England and Wales. When it comes to medical treatment, there are age limits. Puberty blockers can only be given to children from about 12, who have gone through extensive counselling and discussion with their families and medical experts. Cross-sex hormones are only available at 16 and over, again, after a continued in depth look at how that child’s health is progressing, and surgery is only available to adults who are 18 and over.
The Gender Identity Development Service for under-18s notes on its own website that there is not enough research out there on puberty blockers. This is something the NHS has been carefully and sensibly dealing with for years – making the best decision for each individual child, in conjunction with their families, weighing up all the risks.
We have committed in our LGBT action Plan to improving our understanding of the impacts on children and adolescents of changing their gender.
It is important to note that age limits for legal gender recognition are separate to age limits for medical treatment. The age limit for applying for legal gender recognition is 18, and there is no intention to change this.
On the basis of this answer, the Minister does not seem to have any concerns about the Tavistock and GIDs, nor does it make any reference to Mordaunt’s own inquiry, and it states as fact that the work of the Tavistsock/GIDs ‘is not promoted in schools’. But evidence from elsewhere, being provided time after time, shows that this is simply not the case. One thing that is not going to help this situation is a Government Minister giving out incorrect information or fudging reality around children’s safeguarding, especially if there is also evidence that someone, somewhere, could be making a lot of money and obtaining a lot of validation out of some of the things that are happening to young children.
I blogged about Mordaunt webchat performance in general terms that night, and, on 27th March, Maya Forstater published a piece in The Independent that alluded to the questions Mordaunt chose to answer, the questions Mordaunt ignored, and the quality of her responses. Forstater concluded, ‘[Mordaunt] evaded questions on whether the NHS should be treating children with experimental “puberty blocker” drugs, and why schools have no guidance on how to safeguard children facing gender issues.’ Forstater produced more analysis on a thread she posted on Mumsnet itself, which in turn signposted her detailed blog post, ‘85 Questions outside the Minister for Women’s Office’.
In her blog post, Forstater groups the questions asked into general categories and lists the responses. To the vast majority of questions in the general catagories ‘The rapid rise in children and young people transitioning’ and ‘Guidance promoted in schools’, she notes that Mordaunt gave ‘No answer’.
‘Could you tell us more about [the enquiry into the rise in young girls experiencing gender dysphoria] and when the findings are likely to be released?’ — ‘No answer’.
‘Why is the Tavistock continuing to prescribe puberty blockers when their own study showed no benefit and an increase in self harm for girls who were on this treatment? Why are they being allowed to experiment on vulnerable children? The effects of puberty blockers need to be followed up in long term studies — why is this not happening?’ — ‘'No answer’
‘If the advice being given to schools is later found to be incorrect and harm occurs to a child due to schools following this advice, who will be liable and pay any compensation due? Will it be individual schools or will it be the Government?’ — ‘No answer’
Follow the money. Many naive well meaning folk have been caught up in this nightmare.
I’m left feeling incredibly uncomfortable about the children’s safeguarding issues that have been raised and whether we, as a society, and our elected politicians are doing enough. I strongly suspect the answer is No. Of course I’m also uncomfortable that I am reading and sometimes citing articles from right-of-centre newspapers and magazines, but that in itself cannot be a reason or an excuse for failing to investigate charges of - let’s face it - ideologically-driven medical experimentation on children, especially when the concerns are being raised by medical professionals in the field. I recently tweeted, and I stand by it: ‘I’ve heard about those concerns. If there’s nothing to hide, then a child safeguarding inquiry would surely be welcome? In the open? All facts, theories, clinical trial data and follow up data, agendas laid bare?’
This uncertainty is good for no-one, except the money makers. As somebody said in reply to my tweet, ‘Exactly - follow the money. Many naive well meaning folk have been caught up in this nightmare.’
I was taught as a city councillor that we are all corporate parents. We are all responsible for children, and for not looking the other way. No ifs, no buts. This isn’t about traducing adults’ ideologies for pettifogging reasons - this is about safeguarding children. And I have to admit - I’m worried.
Acknowledgements: My thanks to Mumset (owners and contributers), Maya Forstater and the journalists whose work is linked to in the article above. Thanks also to the children’s social care staff at Portsmouth City Council who taught me about the fundamentals of children’s safeguarding and the legislative and ethical background & frameworks in my time especially as Cabinet Member for Education, Children and Families.
Edits (minor): 9th April 2019, pm - addition of ‘& frameworks’ in final sentence; two typos.