CHILDREN with facial disfigurements such as burns, birth marks and scars are to be offered specialist psychological support for the first time.

Youngsters will be given help to build their confidence and cope with anxiety about their appearance through a new paediatric service based at the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow.

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It will be run by Fiona McLeod, who is Scotland's first Changing Faces Practitioner.

Ms McLeod said: “Around half of children with a disfigurement have experienced bullying which can have a devastating effect on their lives affecting their mental health and wellbeing.

“My role is to offer psychosocial support to children, young people and their families in dealing with the complex medical and psychosocial difficulties they face with respect to the appearance of the child or young person.

“Seeing the resilience that many of these children have facing difficulties and managing their conditions, which can impact greatly on their everyday lives, is inspiring and I am privileged to be part of their journey.”

The post was initially funded by the charity, Changing Faces, but will now be paid for directly by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

Ms McLeod is also liaising with schools to raise awareness of the issues faced by children with disfigurements.

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It is estimated that there are around 8000 children under-16 in Scotland who have a visible difference. This can include skin conditions such as eczema, birth marks, acne or epidermolysis bullosa (EB), which causes the skin to blister and tear easily.

Children with craniofacial conditions such as Apert syndrome, a genetic disorder where skull bones fuse together prematurely, or youngsters who have sustained burns, scars and disfigurements in accidents can be referred for support in coming to terms with their injuries.

The service will also help children with non-facial birth defects such as congenital shortened fingers or radial dysplasis - where the radius bone in the arm is missing or underdeveloped, causing the hand to bend towards the body.

Sue Robinson, a Consultant Clinical Psychologist who leads NHSGGC's Paediatric Clinical Psychology Service, said disfigurements can result in children being ostracised and discriminated against in school, leading to difficulty making friends.

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These children are also at greater risk of mental health difficulties, but Ms Robinson said offering support earlier in life would reduce this risk.

She said: “This is helping large numbers of children and young people to deal with the effects that living with a visible difference can have on daily life.

“By assisting these children and families early in managing their circumstances better, their potential need for more specialist psychological support in the future is reduced.”