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'Shocking' toll of Northern Ireland child deaths down to neglect

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 14/07/2016

Figures: Michelle O’Neill
Figures: Michelle O’Neill

Five children have died or suffered serious harm in the last two years in Northern Ireland because of abuse or neglect.

All the victims were known to social services, Health Minister Michelle O'Neill revealed.

Campaigners said the figures were "shocking" and warned the safety of children must be a priority for the Executive.

The details emerged after an Assembly question from DUP MLA Lord Morrow.

He asked how many children and young people had suffered harm or died as a result of neglect or abuse while known to social services.

Ms O'Neill said: "There were five cases notified to the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland between June 2014 and July 2016, involving children who had died or suffered significant harm due to known or suspected abuse and/or neglect.

"All children were known to health and social care services, and four of the five were known to family and childcare services within Health and Social Care Trusts."

The NSPCC said it had seen a steep rise in cases involving cruelty and neglect.

"We know from our own research that criminal cases of cruelty and neglect involving children have increased by 60% in the last five years in Northern Ireland, with 109 offences recorded by the PSNI in 2010/11, rising to 174 last year," a spokesman explained.

"These figures - and those revealed by the Northern Ireland Assembly - are shocking and show that for many children neglect can have drastic long-term consequences, while for others it can be fatal.

"The tackling of neglect and abuse needs to be given the highest priority by the Government in Northern Ireland, and we urge the Executive to do so."

Lord Morrow questioned if protection arrangements were robust enough.

"The statistics are deeply concerning as all five cases were already known to health and social care services," he said. "The next obvious question is, what protection was actually in place?"

Ms O'Neill said health trusts maintained information on the number of children on the Child Protection Register where abuse had been confirmed.

However, to assess if the child was known to social services at the time would require a manual trawl of hundreds of records, she added.

Lord Morrow said he was "perturbed" by the vagueness of the answer.

"It is only through examining previous failings that further instances can be avoided," the DUP man added.

"There needs to be a complete review of the measures put in place in order to protect vulnerable children.

"The trusts may say they are doing their best, but that wasn't good enough for the five children between 2014 and 2016."

Separately, the Health Minister said the deaths of 375 children since October 2013 had been reported as serious adverse incidents (SAI) . In line with recent changes to guidelines, any death of a child receiving health and social care services should be classified as an SAI.

This includes hospital and community services, a looked-after child or a child whose name is on the Child Protection Register.

Ms O'Neill said: "From October 1, 2013, to May 31, 2016, 375 HSC child deaths were reported as SAIs."

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