NSPCC sounds alarm as child cruelty cases double in Northern Ireland in five years
Child cruelty and neglect offences have more than doubled in Northern Ireland in five years, new figures reveal.
Police recorded 500 cases of adults neglecting, mistreating or assaulting children last year - up from 184 in 2013/14.
Across the UK, officers recorded more than 20,000 cases last year, according to the NSPCC.
Reports to police included extreme cases of parents or carers deliberately neglecting, assaulting, abandoning or exposing their child to serious harm and unnecessary suffering.
The NSPCC said there were several potential reasons for the rise in child cruelty and neglect crimes, from greater public awareness to greater pressures on families.
Recorded police offences of this type do not reveal the full picture of neglect in the UK, because often there is local intervention before many of these cases are reported as a crime.
In 2018/19 there were 974 children - 59% of the total number - from Northern Ireland on the Child Protection Register for concerns involving neglect.
To raise awareness about child neglect and abuse, the NSPCC has launched its Light for Every Childhood Christmas appeal.
The charity is calling for donations so it can be there for children suffering from neglect and abuse all year round.
Its Childline service is the only service there for children 24/7 during the upcoming festive period, but it needs support for 2020 and beyond.
Neil Anderson, head of NSPCC NI, said the figures were upsetting. "To see the number of neglect and cruelty offences rise so dramatically is disturbing but sadly not surprising," he added.
"In 2018/19 the NSPCC's adult helpline dealt with 984 child welfare contacts in Northern Ireland and neglect was the second most common reason for referral.
"Greater public awareness could be a factor in these increases, but deeper societal issues, such as increasing pressure on parents, could also be leaving more children vulnerable and exposed to pain and suffering.
"Whatever the reasons for the rise, cruelty to children is never okay. It is vital that children always have a place they can go to seek help and support, day and night."
Adults concerned about a child can contact the NSPCC helpline seven days a week on 0808 800 5000.