Vulnerable children deserve better future
The headline figures are shocking enough, but we may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to child cruelty and neglect in Northern Ireland.
The 341 cases recorded by police reveal that the number has tripled in the last five years and there are now 2,146 children on the Child Protection Register.
What is truly horrifying is the estimate by the NSPCC that for every child on the register another eight are also suffering some form of abuse.
That is almost 20,000 children who are assaulted or ill-treated or neglected. They may be left hungry, dirty, without adequate clothing, shelter, supervision or medical attention or put in harm's way.
Can this scale of cruelty and neglect really be going on behind closed doors throughout Northern Ireland and if so why?
There is no reason to doubt this reputable charity. What it shows is that there are large numbers of families in the province where the parents - or possibly often single parents - are woefully incapable of looking after their own children.
That may seem incredible to most people, but there is no doubt that socio-economic factors, the breakdown of traditional family structures which leave struggling or wilful parents without support from the wider family circle and the childhood experiences of some of those parents, who repeat the neglect they themselves suffered, all play a part.
It is not clear if the big increase in reported cases is due to a higher incidence of cruelty or neglect or better detection by social services or allied professionals, but it seems that very many other cases go unreported.
Yet there must be some indications that all is not well in a significant number of homes. Are warning signs not being picked up by schools or doctors or even neighbours. Sometimes being a nosy neighbour could be a saving grace.
These statistics should also be a warning to the Northern Ireland Executive and Neil Anderson, head of the NSPCC in Northern Ireland, is right to call on government to develop clear guidelines on providing victims of child abuse or neglect with proper therapeutic support.
The government has a particular duty to protect and help the most vulnerable in society and now that the Executive has bedded down to constructive work this issue must find its way towards the top of its agenda. All our children deserve a better future.