30 January 2024
George Freeman calls for more recognition of the causes of mental ill health in children and the role of parental conflict, family breakdown, domestic violence, and parental alcohol & addiction

George Freeman intervenes in a debate on children's mental health to call for more research on the underlying causes driving the epidemic in mental ill health in children and highlights that poverty is not the only driver.

George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member on securing the debate and her passionate advocacy. Many of us across the House share a deep understanding of the need for it. Does she agree that, if we are to tackle the causes, we need better data? We need to understand what is driving this epidemic. I particularly want to draw attention to the children of alcoholics and the great work done by the National Association for Children of Alcoholics; the children of divorce and conflict; and those children badly affected during the pandemic. Does the hon. Member agree that we need better data to understand the causes, then we can start to prevent it, as well as, importantly, treating it when it occurs. We could prevent a lot more of this.

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan (Tooting) (Lab)

I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that there is definitely space for more research. Adverse childhood experiences are the single biggest driver of mental ill health in children and, later on, in adults. I will touch on that later.


George Freeman 

The hon. Lady is making a powerful case, and I am keen to hear as much of it as I can. To the point I was trying to make earlier, extreme poverty is one cause of childhood trauma, but there are many others. Like many people in this House—I put my own hand up—I experienced childhood trauma, but I was in a materially privileged family. Poverty can provide a lot of those drivers that the hon. Lady has talked about, but I was taken out of the arms of my father by the police at 11 months, and I was a child carer of an alcoholic parent. Poverty has a part to play, but does the hon. Lady agree that we need to make sure we frame this in the context of the real causes, some of which are not related to poverty but to other chronic problems, such as alcohol, addiction or domestic violence? If we view the matter simply through the prism of a poverty attack, we are in danger of missing out some of the causes that are really embedded in repeated patterns of trauma within families.

Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)

First of all, it is brave that the hon. Gentleman is sharing his experiences of trauma. I think we need more people to do that. He is also absolutely right that not all of this is directly linked to poverty. Poverty or extreme poverty is one ACE among many others, and these things can happen in any family. Those who are doing research into ACEs would always recognise that trauma is not just suffered in a particular type of household but across socioeconomic backgrounds. The hon. Gentleman will know how difficult it is to overcome the traumas of early childhood and deal with them.