Shock 70% rise in calls to Northern Ireland child helpline
Reports of child neglect to Northern Ireland's NSPCC helpline have increased by a staggering 70% in five years, new figures from the charity reveal.
In 2016/17 the NSPCC made 247 referrals to police or social services in Northern Ireland for further investigation following calls from adults who were concerned about child neglect. That compares to 144 in 2011/12.
NSPCC Northern Ireland head Neil Anderson said: "Neglect can have severe and long-lasting consequences for children and can also be an indicator of other forms of abuse. This is why it is so important for anyone suspecting a child of being neglected to contact the NSPCC helpline so we can alert the authorities to quickly step in and help those in need in Northern Ireland."
These latest figures have been revealed in the NSPCC's state of the nation report called How Safe Are Our Children?
Currently in the province, neglect makes up nearly a third of cases on the child protection register, a confidential list of all children in an area who have been identified by authorities as being at significant risk of harm.
The NSPCC has called for the Stormont Executive to prioritise the provision of further investment in health and social care to tackle child neglect.
Bernie McNally, independent chair of The Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI), which co-ordinates 27 member agencies to protect the welfare of children here, welcomed the NSPCC report.
She said: "It is good that more people are contacting the NSPCC helpline and drawing attention to child neglect issues but it is also concerning that many children are still suffering from neglect in this modern era, it is a big concern for us.
"The SBNI welcome the report from the NSPCC and we will use that to inform our member agencies on the issues raised."
The SBNI includes representatives from health, social care, the police, the probation board, youth justice, education, councils and the NSPCC.
Across the UK, the NSPCC is contacted on average 53 times a day by people concerned about child neglect.
Last year the NSPCC dealt with 19,448 calls and emails about child neglect - the highest number the charity has ever had to handle - and an increase of 61% over five years.
Around 87% of those contacts, 16,882, were serious enough to be referred to social services or the police for further investigation, with many cases involving children under five.
Child neglect was mentioned in more than a quarter of all calls to the helpline in 2016/17.
Neglect happens when a child's needs aren't met and can be down to several reasons ranging from parents not having the appropriate skills, support or funds, to having mental health issues.
Common signs of child neglect can be poor appearance and hygiene, being left alone for a long time, untreated injuries, being hungry when arriving at school and poor language and communication skills.
The charity said a growing number of people contacting the helpline also described parents as having a problem with alcohol and drugs, with some of them regularly leaving their children unsupervised so they could go drinking with friends.
One neighbour calling NSPCC staff said: "The children are home alone again. I saw the mother leave the house earlier this morning and its past midnight now. I've seen the children peer through the curtains a few times as if they're waiting for her.
"She does this every Friday night to go out drinking with her mates. I'm really confused about what to do as I don't want to ruin the relationship with the mother as we are neighbours, but at the same time I am really worried about the children. What should I do?"
- Anyone concerned about the welfare of a child can contact the NSPCC helpline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 0808 800 5000, or email firstname.lastname@example.org