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Speak to a trained member of the Mermaids team. 08088010400

Who are we

What is Mermaids? 

Mermaids is a UK charity supporting transgender, non-binary and gender diverse children and young people, their families, and professionals involved in their care. We exist to relieve the mental and emotional stress of gender-diverse children and young people aged under 20, as well as promote education and awareness.

What services does Mermaids offer? 

Mermaids provides a number of supports to trans young people, their families and the other important people in their lives, including professionals, including: 

  • Helpline, email and web chat support
  • Moderated online forums for parents/carers and three different age groups: 12-15, 16-17 and 18-19 (with an exit at their 20th birthday)
  • Residential weekends, family days and events for young people and families
  • A network of local support groups for families
  • Online support groups
  • Training for individual professionals, public, third sector and corporate organisations

What do you mean by trans?

We use trans as an umbrella term for anyone who is transgender, non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, are of non-Western gender identities and those who have a trans history. 

Do you use the phrase “born in the wrong body?”

While many find the phrase “born in the wrong body” to be helpful in describing their experience, and people should be allowed to use whatever words and phrases are most useful for them, it’s our broad position as a charity that no child is born in the wrong body. You can read more about this here

Why is Mermaids only registered as a charity in England when it operates in other devolved nations? 

Mermaids doesn’t meet requirements to be registered as a charity in Scotland as confirmed by the OSCR, and applied for registration in Northern Ireland as soon as we began providing support and services in Northern Ireland.

Safeguarding

What checks are carried out on staff, volunteers and trustees of Mermaids? 

All staff, volunteers and trustees are subject to relevant checks. Staff and trustees are all subject to standard or enhanced DBS checks as required, social media and adverse media reviews and other due diligence. We have commissioned an external provider to undertake these checks, which exceed the requirements of the Department for Education’s Keeping Children Safe in Education Guidance 2022. 

When would we disclose someone’s personal information without consent?

Confidentiality is central to the trust that exists between Mermaids and service users. This is why we don’t record calls, but do have mechanisms in place to quality assure our Helpline team’s work. Data protection law makes it clear that we have a legal and ethical duty to keep service user’s personal information confidential, but confidentiality is not absolute. 

We are obligated by law to disclose personal information without breaching duties of confidentiality if we believe that (a) it is essential to do so to ensure a child’s safety or (b) disclosure is otherwise required or approved by law. 

Please see our Safeguarding Policy for further information.

Why do we have an Exit Button on our website?

Exit Buttons allow people to move quickly to another website. When you click on an Exit Button, it will immediately take you away from the website you’re viewing and open a new one in its place. Mermaids’ exit button links to the Wikipedia homepage.

This is a standard feature on websites offering support to potentially vulnerable people and can be found on other charities’ websites such as Childline, LGBT Foundation, Refuge and Gendered Intelligence.

Mermaids has an Exit Button to help young people accessing our website feel as safe as possible while finding support and information. Ultimately, the Exit Button helps protect someone looking at the website from being accidentally ‘outed’ to somebody who could have a hostile reaction. 

Unfortunately, LGBT+ young people need specific safeguarding measures in place to protect them from abuse and sometimes, hiding the webpage they were viewing from parents or those that they live with is part of that.

Healthcare

Does Mermaids offer healthcare advice?

Mermaids does not encourage, influence or direct young people, their families or professionals involved in their care to pursue any one pathway. When people seek advice on healthcare, we signpost to relevant, trusted organisations such as the NHS. 

Mermaids does not give healthcare advice. We may provide general information on NHS clinical pathways, but are not involved in the provision of medical care or in advising around whether a medical pathway is appropriate for an individual.  

As part of our advocacy work, we campaign for access to timely, holistic and supportive healthcare, including access to medical options where this is appropriate.

What is Mermaids’ stance on puberty blockers? 

Until Spring 2024, gonadotrophin-releasing hormone analogues (puberty blockers) were prescribed to some trans children and young people by NHS clinicians in England, with varying arrangements in place elsewhere in the UK. They are currently prescribed as a treatment for precocious (early) puberty, some hormone-dependent cancers, and for endometriosis. 

In March 2024, NHS England announced that they would no longer be routinely prescribing puberty blockers, and that future access would only be available through a mandatory research trial. The Cass Review, published in April, appears to recognise that puberty suppression can be helpful for some young people, and recommends that NHS England’s puberty blocker trial be part of a “programme of research” evaluating outcomes of “psychosocial interventions and masculinising/feminising hormones”. Read our statement on the Review here

Puberty blockers are provided outside of England (including other parts of the UK), under the internationally recognised Standards of Care V8 from WPATH.

While we don’t advocate for any one particular pathway, we continue to campaign for access to timely, holistic and supportive healthcare for trans youth, including access to puberty blockers and hormones for those who need them. 

What is Mermaids’ stance on private, overseas and unregulated care?

We do not advocate that children, young people and families access care from unregulated sources. However, we acknowledge the prevalence of trans young people and families who are unable to get the care they need from regulated sources and therefore we take a harm reduction position to private, overseas and unregulated care.

What is Mermaids’ relationship with NHS England’s gender services? 

As the largest UK charity supporting trans children and their families, many of the people that use our services are also within NHS England’s gender services (formerly GIDS) system, or are considering where to find medical support. We provide families and young people with information about services offered by the NHS only, and have previously liaised with the GIDS service regarding service user feedback and experiences.  

Our Services

What training do helpline staff receive? 

All staff and volunteers are trained in safeguarding, GDPR and data protection, and Mermaids’ own internal policies, procedures and systems before starting any direct contact work for the charity. This ensures they are able to notice and appropriately react to any safeguarding concerns that may arise.  

Staff will also attend other sessions depending on their role such as hate crime prevention, dealing with trauma and online community management, as well as sessions to further understand different lived experiences.

When do you limit your helpline hours? 

If levels of abuse towards our helpline staff and volunteers reach intolerable levels, we may close our helpline or reduce our hours in order to look after our team’s wellbeing.

We continually monitor our helpline and check in with our team regularly. We refer contacts of an abusive and criminal nature to the police with the help of Galop.

How secure is your Forum? 

We have robust security and moderation processes in place to ensure our forum groups are a safe space for trans, non-binary and gender diverse young people and their families. 

Security of our platforms and safeguarding of young people is of the utmost importance to us and we will continue to regularly review our processes and procedures to make sure our forums remain safe and secure. 

In August 2022, a journalist gained access to the Youth forums by posing as a 14-year-old in need of support, seemingly with the aim of discrediting Mermaids. This person was caught in the moderation process and was blocked. The purpose of gaining access fraudulently to the youth forums was to secure the provision of a binder, however due to our moderation processes, concerns were raised and a binder was not sent. 

How do we restrict access to the Forum?

Mermaids has a rigorous application process in place for applications and moderations of new Forum members. The process ensures, as far as possible, that members of the forum groups are genuinely members of the communities we exist to serve.

Should there be any violation of our terms, there are mechanisms in place to ensure these are dealt with appropriately. This could include, but are not limited to, these individuals being removed from the forum. All action taken at any time is done proportionately.

How does the charity safeguard its Forum?

All of our forum moderators receive comprehensive training, including safeguarding training, and everyone using the forum has to comply with a strict code of conduct, which prohibits the sharing of personal information, including online identities. They follow our forum moderation guidelines at all times.

We know there is a wealth of misinformation elsewhere on the internet, and so we seek to provide a space for young people to access support from trained professionals in a safe, protected environment. 

All posts on the forum groups are visible to everyone in those groups. We do not allow peer to peer only conversations. Staff moderate the groups on an hourly basis as part of a rota. The safety and well-being of our service users is paramount, and our systems are designed to automatically flag anything that may be a concern. If a young person is identified as being specifically vulnerable, their post will not be shared, and in line with our safeguarding procedures, this will be escalated and actioned accordingly.

Our safeguarding policy exists to ensure, as far as possible, that every child, regardless of their age, disability, gender identity, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation, has a right to equal protection from harm, including while using our online forum groups. 

The charity has the welfare and wellbeing of its service users as its utmost priority at all times and all forum groups are strictly moderated in accordance with this policy. Mermaids has a Designated Safeguarding Lead, and a Deputy Designated Safeguarding Lead, who have the principal objective of overseeing and ensuring that our safeguarding children, young people and adult’s policy is fully implemented at all times.

All helpline staff are trained to moderate the member forums regularly. All moderators have the power to restrict conversations, reinstate full moderation for a user for all posts and if necessary, remove a user entirely. All new members of our Forum have their initial posts reviewed and authorised before they are made available to other members. 

The rules of our Forum are made clear to all members about where people can go should they require urgent support and our service users are required to acknowledge that Mermaids does not offer crisis counselling or support prior to accessing our forums.   

Are there any further safeguarding processes for young people with additional needs on the forums?

The information we publish or reference on our Forum is presented in various ways to maximise accessibility for differing ages and needs. We always want to make information accessible to all. For example, we know that the autistic young people we support generally find videos easier to engage with rather than articles or documents, so we ensure we publish resources that meet this need. 

Should anyone ever have additional needs that they feel are not being met, we would encourage them to raise this with our helpline services staff who can be contacted via our helpline, email or webchat service. 

Why do we sometimes suggest a young person use an email address which their primary carers have no access to, as part of the process for joining our Forum?

Mermaids operates an online forum with separate moderated groups for Parents and Carers, 12-15 years, 16-17 years, and 18-19 years. These spaces are extensively monitored by trained operators to manage and appropriately react to conversations that may raise safeguarding concerns, such as discussions around domestic abuse, actual or potential self-harm and suicidal ideation. Our safeguarding policy is implemented at all times. 

There are a number of different reasons why a private email address may help to keep our young service users safe, for example:

  • If the young person is not ‘out’ to the parent/carer, any access they have to messages exchanged may open the young person up to being outed unwillingly, which in turn may expose the young person to hostility and/or abuse if their parents or carers are not supportive. Unfortunately a high percentage of LGBTQIA+ young people still live in hostile environments, some ending up homeless as a result. Suggesting a new and safe email address can therefore safeguard that young person from such risk. 
  • If parents or carers have oversight of their child’s conversations they would also have oversight of other young people’s private information. Therefore, this is not only a mechanism to assist in safeguarding operations, it also protects the private information of all our service users. 

Charity Commission

Is the charity under investigation?

On Friday 2 December 2022, the Charity Commission announced it would be formalising its engagement with Mermaids and opening a statutory inquiry into the charity, noting that the opening of an inquiry is not a finding of wrongdoing. We have cooperated fully, openly and with complete transparency with the Commission throughout the inquiry and are continuing to do so.

Has your funding been paused? 

A small number of funders paused payment of grants when the Charity Commission’s inquiry was launched. Some funders have unpaused their grants to us, while others are waiting until the inquiry is concluded. 

Other FAQs

What is Mermaids’ policy on chest binders?

Some trans masculine, non-binary and gender diverse people experience bodily dysphoria, as a result of their chest, and binding, for some, helps alleviate that distress. Mermaids takes a harm reduction position with the understanding that signposting or providing comprehensive safety guidelines on the use of binders from an experienced member of staff is preferable to the likely alternative of unsafe practices and/or continued or increasing dysphoria, some of which is outlined in this article. The risk is considered by Mermaids staff within the context of our safeguarding framework. More on binder safety can be found here. We also recommend reading about how to bind safely

Is supplying a binder a criminal offence? 

No. Following recent misrepresentation of chest binding in the media, the Metropolitan Police has clarified their stance in an official press statement: “The supply of a breast binder is not a criminal offence. The Met supports transgender and gender diverse individuals who freely choose to wear a breast binder.”

It goes on to say: “We would like to reassure individuals who choose to wear a binder that they are not committing a criminal offence.” 

Statement on trustee resignation

On 3 October 2022 we became aware of an individual participating in a 2011 conference that, due to its content, and the sponsoring organisations values, would have precluded us from offering him a role as a trustee. Once notified, we immediately launched an investigation and the trustee tendered his resignation that same day.

The individual in question was a trustee for a very short period of time, during which he had no interactions with any of our young people or families and attended only one board meeting. 

Statement on Susie Green’s departure

In November 2022, Susie Green left the charity after six years as CEO. Lauren Stoner was appointed as interim CEO in December 2022 after an open recruitment process. Susie was instrumental in the development of this organisation and the support which exists for trans young people and their families today.  

Why did Mermaids challenge the LGB Alliance’s charity status?

In June 2021, Mermaids, supported by a coalition of LGBT+ organisations, appealed the decision by the Charity Commission to register LGB Alliance (LGBA) as a charity. We argued that LGBA shouldn’t be recognised as a charity because it was focused on hostile anti-trans activism and not (as it claimed) on the promotion of lesbian, gay and bisexual rights. 

The hearing took place over seven days in September and November 2022, and the Tribunal handed down its decision on Thursday 6 July 2023.

Their decision was that Mermaids did not have legal standing to bring the appeal. 

Because they found against us on standing, the Tribunal didn’t have to rule on the main issue in the appeal – namely whether or not LGBA should have been registered as a charity to begin with. You can read more about this decision on our blog.

Do you have a question that this page doesn’t answer? Contact us.

Updated April 2024