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 20 and under, as well as promote education and awareness.
What services does Mermaids offer?
Mermaids provides a number of direct services to families and young people, 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 and family days.
- 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 those who are transgender, non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, are of non-Western gender identities and those who have a trans history.
Does Mermaids offer healthcare advice?
Mermaids is a family and young person-centred support charity and does not encourage, influence or direct young people, their families or professionals involved in their care to pursue any one pathway. For those seeking advice, 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.
Is the charity under investigation?
On Friday 2 December, 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 at all times and will continue to do so in the coming weeks.
Statement on Susie Green’s departure
In November 2022, Susie Green left the charity after six years as CEO. An interim CEO was appointed in December 2022.
Why have you limited your helpline hours?
Due to intolerable abuse towards our staff and volunteers we had to close the helpline on 6 and 7 October 2022, and from the following week we started running our helpline on reduced hours: Monday – Friday, 9am – 6pm and closed on Wednesdays to give our staff respite. We reviewed this in November and have resumed normal working hours. We continue to monitor the situation and will be referring the multitude of contacts of an abusive and criminal nature to the police with the help of GALOP.
Has your funding been paused?
A small number of funders have paused payment of grants until the Charity Commission’s case is concluded.
Why is Mermaids challenging the LGB Alliance’s charity status?
To be registered as a charity, an organisation must be established exclusively for purposes which the law recognises as charitable, and it must pursue them in a way which gives rise to tangible benefits that outweigh any associated harms. We don’t believe the LGB Alliance has met that legal threshold and so are challenging the Charity Commission’s decision to award LGBA charity status.
A tribunal heard five days of evidence in September 2022, and another two days in November 2022, where barristers made their arguments on the law.
Our appeal is supported by a coalition of organisations, including Good Law Project, Consortium, LGBT Foundation, Gendered Intelligence and TransActual, and we expect a judgement sometime in 2023.
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 only attended one board meeting.
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 reviews and other due diligence. In light of recent events, we want to exceed the industry standard and are commissioning a review of our recruitment process to be carried out by an external expert body and will enact its recommendations.
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. In August 2022, an individual – probably a journalist – gained access to the Youth forums by pretending to be a 14-year-old in need of support, seemingly with the aim of discrediting Mermaids. This person was caught in the moderation process and has since been 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. 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.
How do we moderate 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 the forum groups are available exclusively to those who fall within our service user demographic.
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 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.
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.
The charity has a safeguarding policy in place 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 staff and volunteers are trained in data protection, safeguarding and Mermaids’ own internal policies before commencing on any direct contact work for the charity. This ensures they are able to notice and appropriately react to any safeguarding concerns that may arise.
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 provide for differing ages and needs. We always want to make information accessible to all. For example, we know that the demographic of young people using our services who are on the autistic spectrum generally find videos easier to engage with rather than articles or documents, so we ensure we publish resources that satisfy this requirement.
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 uses an email address 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/Carers, 12-15 years, 16-17 years, and 18-19 years. This safe space is 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/carers are not supportive. Unfortunately there is still a high percentage of LGBTQIA+ young people living 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/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.
When would we disclose someone’s personal information without consent?
Confidentiality is central to the trust that exists between Mermaids and service users. 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.
Broadly, Mermaids would be 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.
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 commencing on 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.
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 providing a young person with a binder and comprehensive safety guidelines 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 the “Safe use of binders” guide on the GIDS website.
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 support 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.”
What is Mermaids’ stance on puberty blockers?
Puberty blockers are an internationally recognised safe, reversible healthcare option which have been recommended by medical authorities in the UK and internationally for decades. They have been used to treat precocious (i.e. early) puberty in children, adults as part of treatment for some hormone-dependent cancers, and for conditions such as endometriosis. They have been prescribed to trans young people since 1988. As noted by GIDS and medical experts, blockers are physically reversible when treatment is stopped. Puberty blockers allow a young person to consider their options while exploring their gender identity, as well as alleviating the distress of gender dysphoria.
If provided early enough, which by the globally recognised Standards of Care V8 from WPATH is after Tanner stage 2, puberty blockers can also prevent the development of secondary sexual characteristics that can increase dysphoria, lower self esteem and reduce confidence for many trans young people. However, due to the lengthy waiting times to be seen by GIDS, which are currently in excess of three years, this is largely unavailable to young people in the UK.
You can read more about blockers, including potential side effects, on the NHS website.
What is Mermaids’ relationship with GIDS?
As the largest UK charity supporting trans children and their families, many of the people that use our services are also within the 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 liaised with the GIDS service regarding service user feedback and experiences.
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 this jurisdiction.
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.
Do you have a question that this page doesn’t answer? Contact us.