#childsafety | Trans charity Mermaids giving breast binders to children behind parents’ backs


Before they would send the binder, Kai had to agree to follow the guidelines of the charity, which include that it should not be used for more than 8 hours a day or worn during exercise and should be removed if the wearer experienced conditions such as sickness, dizziness or overheating.

They also referred to a study by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health which found that 97 percent of adult users experienced health impacts from binding including pain, rib fractures, changes to the spine, headaches, respiratory and skin infections and muscle wasting. There have been no studies on the impact on children, partly due to ethical concerns.

The Telegraph has been made aware of a number of posts on the Youth Forum regarding binders, dating back to 2019.

In one, a moderator tells a 13-year-old who complains that their mother won’t let them wear one because it is “neglect” that the charity runs a scheme and if they email their details, Mermaids says it will post one “directly”.

Stephanie Davies-Arai, the founder and director of Transgender Trend, a campaign group, said: “This is a great safeguarding concern, because breast binding is basically a form of self-harm. It damages the body in some very serious ways and it prevents girls from being able to breathe properly, meaning that they cannot do sport or be active.

“They [Mermaids] are giving out inaccurate and partial information and they are encouraging people to trust in what is a medical experiment. Parents deserve to know all of the information, whatever decision they make in the end.”

Other web chats passed to this newspaper as part of a dossier of evidence show a Mermaids worker telling what they believe is a 14-year-old boy that the worker has been on puberty for blockers “many years” and “have never had a problem”.

Though admitting that they are not medically qualified, they add that the drugs “halt puberty and if they come off them then it carries on”.

A charity worker tells another user that puberty blockers “simply suppress the onset of puberty until you are ready to make a decision how to go forward. They are totally reversible”.

The advice was given despite the fact that the medical community has long raised concern about the impact of puberty blockers. Dr Hilary Cass, who is leading a review into NHS services for trans children, has warned there are “significant gaps” in knowledge of the long-term impact of the drugs which she warns could include damage to brain development.

Parents shocked by advice, but Mermaids seems immune to controversy

This is not the first time concerns have been raised about the actions of the charity, including by whistleblowers at the Tavistock, which was the only gender identity clinic for children until the NHS announced that it would close this spring and the service moved into regional centres.

But Mermaids seems to have shaken off continual controversy and remains the go-to charity for children who are questioning their gender.

The latest annual accounts from 2020-21 show that Mermaids received a total income of more than £1.8 million, an increase of almost a million on the previous year. The charity boasts that it earned more than £60,000 from training – double what it predicted – providing sessions for the police, NHS children’s mental health service, hospital trusts, charities and fostering agencies.

They say that they gave 59 training sessions at schools, and that participants of sessions have included GPs, educational psychologists, therapists and paediatric nurses.

Whilst publicly advocating for medicalisation of children, the group is recommended by councils, schools and NHS organisations across the country as a resource for trans young people and their families.

A number of concerned parents who were sent to the charity by professionals say they were “shocked” by the advice.

Services include a forum that Mermaids says is a “safe space” and those joining have “undergone rigorous security checks”, which the adult posing as “Kai” was able to pass.

Once inside, children discuss topics including how to “pass” as their chosen gender, whether they can change their names and pronouns at school without their parents’ knowledge and how to bind their breasts.

In one conversation in a group for 12 to 15-year olds, a moderator publicly congratulated a girl when they described how they decided they were a trans boy by the age of 13 and now wanted “all the surgeries” and “all the hormones”.

One mother sent a complaint to the Charity Commission in 2020 warning that the forum was a “free for all” which “fails the most basic of safeguarding standards” and that she was “horrified by what young adolescents are exposed to behind their parents’ backs”.

In a separate complaint, another mother says she was “hugely concerned that the conversations with homophobic content allowed within the Mermaids Peer to Peer group might have pushed my son to make the decision that he now feels that being bisexual or gay is unacceptable.

“I am worried that these conversations have led him to believe that he needs to be medically transitioned for him to be accepted.”

She raised concern “at the speed” with which her son, who has autism spectrum disorder, “travelled into a world of transition” because of the conversation in which children were “instantly affirmed and encouraged by other service users to change their names behind their parents’ backs”.

In response to the complaints, the parents were told that the regulator contacted the charity but that the matter was now closed.

But the evidence of recent treatment of children uncovered by this newspaper has led to calls for the regulator to look again at the service.

MPs call for investigation

Joanna Cherry KC, an SNP MP, said: “Mermaids are currently trying to have another charity, the LGB Alliance, removed from the register of charities, but I think it’s high time their own activities were put under the spotlight.

“These revelations raise major safeguarding issues particularly in the light of the findings of the recent Cass interim report. The allegations of homophobia are also very concerning. The Charity Commission must carry out a thorough investigation.

“As pathways into care are also within the remit of the Cass report, I would hope she will feel able to look very carefully at the advice Mermaids are offering to gender non-conforming young people.”

Miriam Cates, the Tory MP, added that an investigation by the regulator would be a “good idea”.

“These are huge safeguarding issues,” she told The Telegraph. “Any physical intervention like breast binding, puberty blockers and cross sex hormone is a serious issue and a step that should not be taken without medical supervision and in the case of a child, without parental involvement.

“There are so many question marks over Mermaids. I know of schools where they have gone in and given questionable presentations to children and girls have decided that they are not girls as a result.”

The former teacher added that “Mermaids do not meet the bar for a group that should be allowed to provide resources or visits to schools. They should not be anywhere near schools.”

Mermaids would not comment on the details of the investigation, but said binding “helps alleviate” the “distress” of gender dysphoria for some and it took “a harm reduction position” that providing a binder “alongside comprehensive safety guidelines from an experienced member of staff is preferable to the likely alternative of unsafe practices and/or continued or increasing dysphoria”.

It added: “The risk is considered by Mermaids’ staff within the context of our safeguarding framework.”

Despite the growing body of evidence, Mermaids insisted that: “Puberty blockers are an internationally recognised, safe, reversible, healthcare option which have been recommended by medical authorities in the UK and internationally for decades.”

It says that the NHS gender identity service, run by the Tavistock, and medical experts have noted that “blockers are physically reversible when treatment is stopped. Puberty blockers allow a young person to consider their options while exploring their gender identity, as well as alleviating the distress of gender dysphoria.”

When it was announced in July that NHS Tavistock was being closed down amid concerns it was not safe for children, the call from campaigners was clear: “Mermaids must fall next”.

That call may now need to be considered in hospital board meetings and classrooms across the country because, as Ms Cherry points out, it is not simply the charity’s reputation that is on the line.

“Those who have a training relationship with the charity would also be well advised to consider the extent to which following their advice might expose them to legal risk,” she said.



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