Thursday, July 12, 2018


Dana comments on a recent post in which I mentioned that mild self-harming is becoming some sort of misdirected fashion fad among young people. Dana says; 

"I don't think self harm scars could ever put anyone in the realm of 'cool'. As someone who has several hundred that I have to live with (and cover up for work etc) they're certainly not. They represent a period of intense trauma and the coping mechanism for. Whilst there may be a small minority of children who mistakenly think it's fashionable there is usually an underlying cause and finding that out - and helping is important. 
Also I think some don't appreciate the lifelong negative affects of living with serious scarring. The looks from others the questions, the concerns over judgement.
On the flips idea, having recovered from this 'habit' of over half my life, which was initiated and sustained by a series of negative events I'm confident I can help children with the issue, whether they are trying yo be cool or not. Suspect not mind;I rather suspect they're hurting. 
I'm open about this with my SW too btw. I can't exactly hide it now. Tshirt weather (that is something to watch out for - is your LAC wearing long-sleeved despite the heat). We've changed it into a positive- how I can help others."

First off Dana, can I say how much we respect and value the insight and personal experience you bring, which will stand you in great stead in fostering, and which can be a huge benefit to so many damaged children and young people.

Dana, I think maybe if I was someone whose experiences had caused me the trauma that leads to what is called 'self-harm' I'd be upset about the youths who right now scratch themselves and wear it as a badge of some kind of stand against the world or statement of rebellion.
It's going on, in school huddles and at shopping malls at weekends. They roll up their sleeves so their peers can see they 'belong' to the aggrieved. Seems to be mainly 13-15 year olds, round our way anyway.

Dana makes the point better than I can which is; this sort of 'self-harming' bears little comparison to the very real and very significant problem that Dana and many others experience.

I dare say (have no evidence) that kids who haven't got marks are dissed as wusses and goodie-two-shoes. 

As a foster parent I often try to put myself in the shoes of the child who has come into my home. The experience is always harrowing. Rarely more so that when the child/young person has taken to drawing their own blood. What do we do?

Dana is coming up for panel to become a foster parent who will bring special background to the job. Perhaps if she gets a moment she might write up her advice to foster parents who discover marks on their child's forearms.

Our Blue Sky trainings most recent advice to us foster parents was that there's little point sweeping a child's bedroom for sharp things. I remember one child who stayed with us removed the tiny disc that cut paper on this device I had for cutting paper to size. I hardly used the thing, but I demonstrated it once to her to help her with a school project. She secretly removed the disc and used it on herself in her bedroom. We only discovered this when we called an amnesty on sharp things. She'd also found an old Stanley knife blade somehow somewhere; all her sharp things were hidden behind a drawer in her bedside cabinet. 
What, we're going to do a fingertip search of their room every morning? Keep your eyes peeled yes, but don't overdo the vigilance.

Our training teaches us to be trusting and understanding.

We're taught that some poor people have a NEED to do this.

It was harrowing to visualise, but we were advised that if a foster child appeared with bleeding arms, to say something supportive such as; "Can I get some paper towels for you?"

We're advised to be alert to the moods of a young person rather than the likelihood that they've been sneaking stuff from the knife drawer or the toolbox. 

The training officer who delivered the session on self harming was brilliant, I especially remember the section about WHY people do it; to transfer their emotional pain to a limb, and turn it into a pain they have some control over.

But, to the best of my knowledge, she was not a person who had first-hand experience, as in actually experiencing the need to do it to herself.

So over to you Dana.

Tell us about it, if it's not too painful or difficult. 


  1. 1/2

    Firstly thank you for your post.

    This is a very complex and diverse issue and a controversial and sensitive one too.

    As you mention there is a stark difference between those who may self-harm for ‘fashion’ reasons and those who do so because of trauma. But in both instances the child will be physically scarred, often for life, and perhaps emotionally too by the very act of harming oneself.

    If only at that very instance of harming you thought of the scarring but you don't. You're in the present and really aren't thinking of how scars may affect your self confidence in the future.

    Here I'm going to concentrate on those that harm because of trauma.

    Firstly there are a variety of ways a child could harm themselves though typically we think of cutting. Other ways may include causing bruises, burns, hair pulling, intentionally not eating properly or knowingly participating in risky behaviour such as drunkenness and promiscuity.

    Below however I’m going to discuss the most common. Cuttings or scratching.

    Most people's reactions if they see evidence or, or suspect self-harm is to confront it and try to put a stop to the behaviour instantly. But in my experience and that of friends being confrontational doesn't help. You will drive the activity into even more secretive places and perhaps add to feelings of shame or guilt. Ultimately if a child wishes to harm themselves they will. I remember taking the small metal blade out of sharpeners and stealing craft knives from school as my home was sharp objects free.

    There can be the assumption a child is harming for attention. This can be the case in some instances but I’ve a feeling most times it’s a reaction to intense negative trauma, whether the child realises that or not.

    So what are the signs?

    This again is drawn from experiences so does not cover everything. But...think:
    Has the child's behaviour changed? Have they become quiet, secretive, or has their routine changed (eg I started having more baths so I could harm in the bathroom).
    Have they changed the clothing they wear? Think especially in hot weather, can you see their arms and legs.
    Do they seem more concerned than normal about you entering their room, or have they suddenly volunteered to clean their room themselves? (It is easier to hide yourself and any implements if your room becomes a totally private space).
    Have they changed emotionally? Some self-harm can release endorphins which make the child feel better for a few hours afterwards but then low again after that. This can be part of the addiction. The need to get that endorphin rush back.
    Linked to routine changing, has the child's behaviour changed dependent on the time of day. Eg are they sleeping in bed longer, or staying up longer, or avoiding adults more. Avoidance can in part be because they're trying to find a quiet time and place to harm, or because they're trying to stop, and in trying to break a habit they're trying to change up their routine to break away.

    They say habits take 3 months to form but longer to break. If the child never gets into the habit of harming it will be better for them in the long run.

    The above makes it sound like we're supposed to turn into detectives to try to catch our LAC out. We're not. We're supposed to love and support them. Don't try to judge the action but think what is behind it. Please don't immediately reel in horror and think it's an awful thing for the child to do, or feel guilty for not spotting or stopping it sooner. Certainly don’t confront or try to stop them immediately.

  2. 2/2
    SFC mentioned she was advised as a training session to essentially hand out kitchen towel and that some children need to harm. This is a tricky area for sure. I do agree some children need to harm. It has become their coping mechanism, and if they can't exert control over their emotions, their body and their actions in this way, the pain will come out in another, perhaps worse way. I remember once the ‘need’ being so strong, that not being able to find anything suitably sharp in my home, I went to the park where I found a broken glass bottle and slashed my face. I’m stuck with that scar (the questions it arouses) for life now; it was driven by not being able to fulfil the need in a timely manner.

    As for the kitchen towels, yes, essentially. If your child is going to do it anyway, make sure they're safe and clean. Reduce the risk of infection, even show them how to put on plasters or bandages.

    And how could you help?

    My view is that if you help with the pain from trauma, the self-harming will fall away naturally.
    Counselling would probably help, but not to tackle the self-harm as such, but the cause. That should be the focus.
    Removing sharps totally wont help. They will find another way. Having ‘safe sharps’ (with consent from professionals) could be a good alternative. Least they’re clean etc.
    With their counsellors or social workers say so, perhaps getting them to keep a diary of their emotions (perhaps scoring from 1 to 10) for good to bad days. And a diary of when they harm. Just being objective about it, having the issue in black and white can help the child realise they have an addiction, or that perhaps they're spiralling out of control.
    Can you identify particular triggers and lessen these?
    Can you make alternatives available with SWs etc say so. A good one I found was PVA glue (supervised if poss). Paint your arm with glue, let it dry and peel it off. Painful, but no lasting effect. Elastic bands also handy.
    If there is a time and place they usually harm in and at, don't put a blanket ban, but try to distract. Eg if it is late at night after they've had a difficult day at school, how about watching a film together until they're clearly ready for bed. Or try to tackle the difficult situation at school. Silly as it sounds, sometimes when harm was a habit, I didn't that day because I was too tired. I just wanted sleep instead.

    I have an example of a friend. He was sexually assaulted by a male teacher during primary school age. He did not tell anyone for over five years. He was too young to process the events or have the emotions to deal with it. He'd been trying to on his own for years as a young teenager. He fell into depression, self-harmed extensively, and was violent and agitated in a school setting around male teachers. Professionals assumed he was just a grumpy teen who was badly behaved. But he was hurting. He ended up being sectioned as a mid-teen. It wasn't until he started seeing a counsellor and revealed what had happened that his behaviour, slowly but surely improved and he stopped self-harming naturally. The hospital even allowed him to do it if he felt it necessary. When it wasn't any more help stopped. Day by say he got better. He is now a million miles from his teenage self. If someone had met him as a teen God knows their judgements. But it was the trauma behind it all. He's an amazing man now.

    As to why?
    I would say control is a main factor. Control over your emotions and body, especially if you don't have the skills to regulate your emotions, or you don't have much control over other aspects of your life. But this need for control is strong, and it's strong because the trauma being reacted to is harrowing. That trauma is the underlying cause in my view. So when you see a kid with evidence of self-harm, or one in the street, or even an adult with scars, try to think of their life experiences that led to that harm, and don't judge the action itself.

  3. PS

    For me personally. C17 years of harm, from the age of c8 (relatively young; most of those who harm start in early teens). Daily for long stretches of time. So strong was the habit I’d even do it in my sleep (really; I’d wake up having no recollection but with new wounds and a bloody bed). No one said anything to me about it for a good 8yrs+. I was under the radar. It was actually a gf who first did. Thankfully. But by then the habit was so strong it took a further near decade to stop. The triggers were also so strong, that it was hard to find alternative ways to cope. But I got there.

    I have a million thoughts on the issue but I hope I've covered some key points with too many typos.

    And yes…, panel soon. Got my hard date. It's 8 weeks’ away (slight pushback due to diy in my house)

    Thanks again,


  4. Wow.

    Dana; a million thanks. The above is priceless, full of astonishing insights (oh, and if I may say so, brilliant prose).
    What to do with all your knowledge? Not to mention your keen understanding and constructive advice.
    First I'd like to convert your thoughts into a stand-alone post. Second (this is just a thought) I wonder if you'd be willing to talk to fellow foster carers on the subject (actually you could touch on plenty of other issues too). Not enough of our training sessions are conducted by people who are foster carers, and God-willing in 8 weeks you will be exactly that.
    PS Hope the DIY isn't driving you nuts...

    1. Thank you.
      I did miss a key coping mechanism out, as I'm sure I missed other valid points. Exercise. Even just 15mins in the park (playing frisbee, running, basketball, whatever) will make a difference. It will release some of the same endorphins as harming, and improve moods. Its one of the things that really helped me actually. I got into jogging. 15mins here, 20mins there etc.
      A post would be grand. As for speaking to others I have no issues with the concept, however I've got to get myself approved first. That's my focus. And then settle into my respite care routine.
      As for the DIY. Im doing it all myself. Its time consuming, and boring, but at least I can decorate etc just how I want everything. I have a forest/trees themed house coming along with a bit of Star Wars and Marvel Comics thrown in.

    2. Amen to your wishes.
      Great point about exercise, not many would make the match. Useful.
      Good luck with everything; may the Force remain with you!

    3. I had a grand meeting with my social worker today. Even though not approved yet, I was asked if I'd like to become a specialist carer down the line. I fully realise this is the 'more challenging' kids, but saying that I myself was a 'challenging' child. We've drawn up a development and training programme to hopefully get me into specialist care, as opposed to mainstream, about nine months after approval. I cant wait for all the steps and all the kids I'm going to meet and have stay along the way.
      Also as panel is nearing i've done more decorating of the spare room. I've put name signs on mine and lodgers' rooms, but was wondering how I was going to label spare room for respiters... So I made the signs out of spare scrabble tiles i bought online ... this means respiter can add their own name when they stay.. literally claiming their room too. Am hoping it will make them feel more welcome (plus I dont want them mixing up bedroom and bathroom in middle of the night!)

    4. That's wonderful news Dana; congratulations in advance! We all avoid tempting fate by saying things like "God willing" and "If everything goes according to plan", but there's every reason for you to plan for the best outcomes. I've never heard of social services locking into a new carer's future in the way you describe, you are very clearly standout.
      Love the name on the door idea.
      Good fostering is more than the big picture, it's a thousand little details, just like that one.
      They could even choose their name. I had a boy arrive called John, very shy, timid and quiet, but I had another, older boy also called John. So I asked little John if he wanted to choose another name and quick as a flash he went for "Billy". And from that moment on he changed; became outgoing, confident and bubbly. Shrinks go figure.