Christmas is, to most people, the most festive time of year and the most joyful time of the year. However, for some children and families, there is no sparkle in the December festivities as it isn’t filled with happiness, family, and friends. Christmas can be a time when children struggle to cope with being ignored, bullied, and abused. December sees a spike in safeguarding issues and every year there is an increasing number of reports of children phoning the NSPCC for help as relationship tensions among families tend to come to a head over the Christmas break. There are some main safeguarding issues:
As schools and some workplaces break up for Christmas, children and adolescents can be cut off from their usual support network of teachers and friends and have no one to turn to. Neglected or abused young people can experience extreme loneliness as they are isolated from the outside world which can be made worse by the dark nights and freezing temperatures. They might not be able to leave the house, which can leave them feeling anxious and depressed.
Overeating, lack of sleep, emotional stress and excess alcohol can come together to create a storm and young people tend to be first in the firing line. Sometimes there is nowhere to hide from violent and aggressive family members who lose control. There is also the issues of parents allowing children to get drunk and take drugs.
This time of year is also the time of year when many young people are left by themselves for long periods and sometimes overnight. Not all are blessed with home lives filled with responsible adults. Children who are unsupervised are potentially put at risk of suffering or injury and the festive period is often a time when adults seek entertainment outside of the home. This means that young people and children who are left alone at home have to fend for themselves and sometimes even look after younger siblings.
Christmas places families under enormous pressure to spend money buying gifts, entertainment and decorating. Sadly, many can’t absorb the financial commitments without going into debt. Some children and young people may start comparing what they have compared to others which can lead to them believing that they have been put on the ‘naughty list’. Hearing about the amazing gifts that other children have received may make them feel inadequate.
Children may be more vulnerable to abuse or exploitation from people outside their families as a result of the relationships they have in their neighbourhoods, schools, and online. Child sexual exploitation, exploitation by criminal gangs and trafficking and radicalisation can all be more prevalent during holiday periods when children aren’t safeguarded by their schools.
Research by the charity MIND shows that people with mental health problems struggle with self-harm and suicidal feelings due to the pressure of Christmas and this places children and young people in extremely vulnerable situations.
Here are some lifelines if you or someone you know need it:
- The NSPCC are here to help 24/7 and children can call their Childline number on 0800 1111
- Help for adults concerned about a child can call 0808 800 5000
- Shout is the UK’s first 24/7 text service, free on all major mobile networks, for anyone in crisis anytime, anywhere. It’s a place to go if you’re struggling to cope and you need immediate help. Text 85258