The number of children referred to the NHS with gender identity issues has increased more than tenfold over the past six years.
The latest figures from the Gender Identity Development Service (Gids) revealed that 969 under-18s in the UK have been referred from April to December 2015, including nearly 200 aged 12 or under. This compares to just 94 in 2009-2010.
The statistics also showed one three-year old and three four-year-olds were referred to Gids since April last year.
This week it emerged that a five-year-old Nottinghamshire boy recently returned to the classroom as a girl. Letters were sent to classmates and parents at the start of term explaining the five-year-old wished to be treated as a girl.
Nottinghamshire County Council admitted transgender issues were a new area for many schools but said it “supported headteachers on a range of equality issues”.
Colin Pettigrew, the authority’s director for children, families and cultural services, said: “Transgender is a characteristic protected by law and therefore headteachers across England continue to, and are required to, agree a clear plan to support the needs of transgender children and young people.”
Gids, based in north London, is the NHS’s dedicated gender identity development service for children and takes referrals from GPs, paediatricians, mental health services and schools across the country. If a child is thought to have gender dysphoria they will usually be referred by a GP to Gids, at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust in London – the only specialist service for young people.
Its director, Polly Carmichael, told the BBC a greater number of younger children were making gender transitions and there was no “right or wrong approach”.
However, she highlighted research in the Netherlands which suggested that “for some young people who make an early social transition it may be difficult to de-transition if their gender identity develops in another direction”.
She added that the growth in numbers was likely to be due to greater awareness of gender identity issues.