Three children in every classroom are suffering mental health problems fueled by social media, the chief executive of the UK’s biggest children’s charity has said.
Javed Khan, Barnardo’s chief executive, said children’s services are struggling to cope with a crisis made worse by the internet and social media which is exposing children to cyber bullying, sexual exploitation, grooming and gaming addiction.
Mr Khan told The Telegraph, social media was contributing to a “perfect storm” of rising demand for children’s services which have increasingly limited resources to cope with it.
A YouGov poll for the charity yesterday found 60% of social workers, education and law enforcement staff had seen an increase in number of particularly vulnerable children in the past five years.
Two thirds attributed the rising numbers to a shortfall in early intervention and said more children than ever had complex problems including trauma, grooming, sexual abuse and exploitation.
Citing an Office of National Statistics study of 7,000 children, Mr Khan warned it had become a wider issue affecting children of all classes and backgrounds. “Three children in every classroom are thought to have a diagnosable mental health problem, which is approaching epidemic proportions,” he said.
“The nature of ‘vulnerability’ is changing and it doesn’t respect class or privilege.
“Across the country, there are children living in comfortable homes with their parents, who seem safe and secure but the moment they switch on their phone, tablet or computer, they enter a new realm where the usual rules, regulations and safeguards do not apply.”
He added that “the risks connected with the online world, in addition to rising demand for children’s services, and limited resource, is creating a perfect storm”.
With 77% of those polled saying there were insufficient resources to meet demand, Mr Khan advocated a radical new approach which included Barnardo’s delivering services for and in partnership with councils, police, the NHS and other charities.
Mr Khan also backed urgent legislation to force the tech giants to take faster and more effective action to better protect children from online harms.
“We know through our specialist services how abusers destroy children’s lives and much more needs to be done to protect them,” he said. “Any delay could put future generations of children in danger,” he said.
The Telegraph has been campaigning for a new statutory duty of care on social media firms to better protect children from threats such as cyberbullying, grooming and addiction.