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Volunteering at Scouts is changing to help us reach more young people

Volunteering is changing to help us reach more young people

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Dealing with self-harm

Find out how you can support children and young people who self-harm

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is when someone hurts themselves as a way of dealing with or expressing difficult thoughts and feelings. There are lots of things that could be described as self-harm. Here are some of the most common forms: 

  • cutting or scratching the skin,
  • biting, punching or banging,
  • burning or scalding,
  • pulling or excessively plucking hair,
  • poisoning, and
  • taking overdoses.

Self-harm doesn’t always leave marks on the body, and people may put lots of effort into hiding any injuries. 

Why do some people self-harm?

Some people may think that self-harm is the same as a suicide attempt, but this isn’t true. Even where someone may have taken an overdose, they may be intending to harm themselves rather than trying to end their life.

It’s important to understand that there are lots of different reasons why someone might self-harm, and you should try not to make any assumptions. 
For many people, self-harm is a coping mechanism that they can use when they are dealing with difficult thoughts and feelings. Although you may feel like the most important thing is changing the self-harming behaviour, it’s often more important to recognise the reasons someone might be doing this. Some people will understand why they are hurting themselves, whereas others will be less sure.

How should I respond to someone who is self-harming?

  • If you become aware that a child or young person self-harms, the most important thing you can do is stay calm and non-judgemental. This can help the young person to speak more openly. 
  • Inform their parent or carer, unless it's believed that this contact would put the young person at further risk of harm.  
  • Always follow the Yellow Card Code of Conduct for Adults and report your concerns to the UK HQ Safeguarding Team.   
  • Don’t demand to see their injuries, but confirm whether the child or young person needs medical attention. This is important, because injuries could be serious or at risk of infection. 
  • Adult volunteers in Scouts must not become the main support for a young person who is self-harming. Specialist support needs to be identified and the UK HQ Safeguarding Team will liaise with parents or carers to identify and signpost to appropriate support.
  • The best form of support is through the child or young person’s GP. They can decide whether a referral should be made to a specialist service, such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. Where it’s appropriate, you can make the young person and parent or carer aware of useful organisations, such as those on this page.

Just being involved in a supportive environment within Scouts and the positive relationships made there, can make a big difference. Support and understanding can have a very positive effect. 

What else do I need to consider?

You may need to make adaptations to activities in Scouts for young people who self-harm. Consider this when risk assessing activities, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the child or young person. Discuss their needs with them and with their parent or carer to make sure a suitable support or care plan is in place.

Reporting a concern

If you're concerned about the welfare of a child, young person or adult volunteer, you must follow the Yellow Card Code of Conduct for Adults and report it to the UK HQ Safeguarding Team.

Reporting a safeguarding concern >

Further support

These resources provide information and advice. You can also share them with young people.

  • Childline. Talk to Childline by calling 0800 1111.
  • Young Minds. Text SHOUT to 85258 to talk to a trained volunteer.
  • Mind. Talk to Mind by calling 0300 123 3393.
  • Samaritans. Talk to Samaritans by calling 116 123.
  • NHS. For urgent medical advice, call 111.