Having commented about an increase of 5000% referrals to the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) the Cass Report states,
‘The increase in referrals has been accompanied by a change in the case-mix from predominantly birth-registered males presenting with gender incongruence from an early age, to predominantly birth-registered females presenting with later onset of reported gender incongruence in early teen years.’ (p32)
In England, there has been considerable government attention given to this vexed issue via the Cass Report. Concerns have been raised and discussed in Parliament and draft school guidance published recently, is out for consultation and has been the subject of significant comment. The Cass Report highlighted the importance of schools especially with regard to social transition and self-identification. By comparison, the Scottish Government issued final guidance to schools in August 2021 Supporting Transgender Pupils in Schools. There has been no Cass equivalent review; there has been no consideration of the dangers of social transition; there has been no examination of the harms of pupils self-identifying; there has been very little data recorded and needless to say, little data is available for public scrutiny.
Throughout Time to Think, Hannah Barnes reports about the referral pathways to GIDS (eg pp29-30, pp185-201, pp277-292). An obvious issue was the lack of clarity about which service was responsible for assessing and intervening prior to any referral to GIDS. There was a lack of clarity regarding what constituted an appropriate referral. It was also uncertain what made a ‘good’ assessment. There seemed to be confusion about which services could refer to GIDS and the degree to which they were deemed credible and competent to make such referrals. Education and Social Work Services and Mermaids were all able to refer as individual agencies but it would appear that there was very little joined up thinking regarding the referral process or whether it should follow an agreed pathway.
The NHS and Children’s Mental Health Services alone cannot solve the issues created by an explosion in gender questioning children. There is consistent and growing evidence to demonstrate that the huge increase in gender questioning children is caused largely via influences from social media, educational contexts, peers and other social community variables. It is extremely important that the role of Education and Social Work Services are not overlooked. Both services are potentially extremely potent influencers in children and families’ lives.
The current Scottish education system can quite legitimately be accused of the ‘product placement’ of ‘trans’ and gender ideology in its curriculum and its access to social groupings such as LGBT Youth Scotland (funded generously by the Scottish Government). The Scottish Government’s ‘trans’ guidance for schools has not been revised nor removed despite the criticisms of many experienced professionals and child development experts. The fact that it is at odds with much of the Cass Report and the draft schools guidance issued by Westminster is indicative of a doubling down by the Scottish Government and our public services. The Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) curriculum in all schools has ‘trans’ ideology woven throughout the teaching lessons, and LGBT Youth Scotland continues to provide groups and links to most schools while ‘supporting’ pupils to ‘come out’ as ‘trans’. And then there is the Social Work Care Inspectorate Guidance, Children & Young People’s Services on the Inclusion of Transgender Including Non-Binary Young People, which suggests that staff can signpost children and young people, ‘To seek medical assistance to transition’. Since when did staff caring for children have the expertise to do this?
The stance taken by our Scottish government and public services so far has been to ignore recent research findings:
• Consistent research studies carried out for over twenty years which highlight that the majority of gender questioning children stop being gender dysphoric once they have gone through puberty
• Recent disclosures from the GIDS and the Dutch Study report that there have been no significant positive outcomes from treating children and teenagers with puberty blockers and cross sex hormones
• Scandinavian countries have stopped hormone treatments of children and teenagers as they simply cannot find any good evidence of positive outcomes.
Professions and governments have messed up. There is no clear definition of the term ‘trans’. It means different things to different individuals. It is an attractive term to some vulnerable children most of whom already have additional support needs and/or mental health issues. Children and teenagers do not have the cognitive capacity to understand the implications linked to the concept of ‘trans’, and the idea of changing sex is quite wrongly presented by the Scottish Government schools guidance for ‘trans’, the RSHP curriculum and LGBT Youth Scotland pro-trans literature. In reality the ‘trans’ term confuses and harms children who are already at risk by misleading with false information and mis-selling an idealized concept. Future planning must involve a multi-agency approach that starts with schools and considers what is preventative and effective practice in facilitating pupils’ critical analysis skills, emotional resilience and positive mental health rather than facilitating a fantasy concept for which there is no evidence. Schools gather much useful assessment information about pupils. With the help of educational psychologists, and other support professionals, schools could and should be working with children to manage the gender ideology questions and challenges caused by social media and other societal influences. Such a preventive approach would be helpful to NHS mental health services and Social Work Services and it just might prevent a whole heap of angst for children and families.
Barnes, H. (2023) Time to Think, Swift Press.
Cass Review (2022) Independent review of gender identity services for children and young people: Interim Report
Scottish Government (2022) Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP).
Scottish Government (2021) Guidance Supporting Transgender Pupils in Schools.