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Caring for Children and young people who Self-Harm Training

Bodmin Gaol

A thoroughly informative training course about self-harm was held on 15th July at Bodmin Jail. There were 16 attendees, mostly foster carers and some staff. The trainer was Ian from Simply Fostering who gave an engaging, thought-provoking presentation and facilitated group discussions on the topic. Some foster carers shared invaluable experience in working with this poorly understood, taboo issue. Ian helped the participants to consider how we all make lifestyle choices and most people harm themselves in some way, for example through smoking, drinking, having tattoos or taking part in extreme sports.  However, injury is always the outcome with self-harm, whereas lifestyle choices are a gamble. Self-harm has been found to be most common between the ages of 14-16, although it is becoming less unusual to find younger children and older people also self-harming.  Both females and males self-harm but it has been found to be more common in females. There are many different methods of self-harm such as cutting, burning, swallowing foreign objects or poisons, not taking prescription medication or overdosing. Self-harm is generally a response to overwhelming feelings, the act can be a powerful release of pressure and can meet a need to feel some control. It is a way of punishing oneself and has been described as an ‘inner scream’. Being able to focus on physical pain for a while can be easier than dealing with the emotional pain. It is normal for foster carers to feel fear, confusion, guilt and disappointment when a young person self-harms but it is just another behaviour like aggression or taking drugs. It is important to remain calm if a child or young person has self-harmed, be sensitive and give them first aid. It is best to not ask questions as this will put them under more pressure but instead state that you think they must be feeling very unhappy to have done that which gives an acknowledgment that you understand them.

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