The number of under 18s who have been referred for help coping with transgender feelings has increased by more than 1,000% in the last 5 years – with the youngest children seeking help aged just three.
The Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) said they treated 1,013 children between April and December last year, including nearly 200 aged 12 or under.
In 2010, just 97 such cases were recorded.
The statistics also showed one three-year old and three four-year-olds have been referred to GIDS since April last year.
Number of under 18s seeking help with gender has increased ten-fold
GIDS, based in north London, is the NHS’s dedicated gender identity development service for children and takes referrals from GPs, paediatricians, mental health services and schools across the country.
Its director, Polly Carmichael, said in recent years more younger children were making gender transitions and there was no “right or wrong approach”, with many families reporting their child was happier living in another gender.
However, she said research published in the Netherlands suggested that “for some young people who make an early social transition it may be difficult to de-transition if their gender identity develops in another direction”.
In terms of the general increase in referrals, GIDS said there could be a number of reasons, but increased awareness and acceptance of gender issues – particularly via the media and social networks – was a likely factor.
5 to 9-year-olds referred to GIDS
The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, the UK’s only centre specialising in gender issues in under 18s, said that while young children may fulfil the criteria for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, it “would not generally consider it helpful to make a formal diagnosis in very young children”.
Children are offered counselling and support sessions and any physical intervention is not considered until a child approaches puberty, when hormone blockers might be offered, the trust said.
Blockers delay the physical change of puberty, allowing a young person time to further explore their gender identity and live as a man or woman in the longer-term, after which a patient can consider taking cross-sex hormones at the age of 16, and surgery after 18, it added.