Belfast Telegraph

Child charity facing record demand

A children's charity has admitted it is struggling to reach out to vulnerable teenagers who are calling for emotional support in record numbers.

The ISPCC's TeenFocus had 317 referrals within the first six months of the year, with another 119 desperate families on a waiting list. It revealed staff were battling to meet the surge in demand as children went back to school.

Tess Noonan, TeenFocus manager, said parents, teachers and young people were calling the service in unprecedented numbers.

"It is clear families and young people are under immense pressure," she said. "This pressure can manifest in many ways which has a negative impact on both home and school life."

Last year, a record 502 teens were referred to the service, which supports young people at vulnerable stages in their lives, like making the transition to secondary school, tackling bullying or refusing to attend classes.

Annual figures for 2009 show 403 young people received one-to-one support, a 67% rise from 2008; 61% related to emotional and behavioural difficulties; 23% of referrals came from parents or the young people themselves; and 102 clients utilised web-based support.

Elsewhere, almost half of this year's workload accounted for emotional and behavioural issues. Some 35% of 2010 referrals were from school; 27% from the HSE, and 23% from parents/young people.

The charity said parents often did not know where to turn when things went wrong.

Caroline O'Sullivan, ISPCC director of services, said TeenFocus had a crucial role to play in helping young people develop positive self-esteem and build psychological resilience.

"It is through increasing a child's coping ability that they can deal with emerging issues around schools," said Ms O'Sullivan. "While TeenFocus has made great strides in the last couple of years, the ISPCC is concerned that we now have waiting lists for these services. This highlights the importance of the service to children and families across the country and identifies the clear gaps that exist in preventative services for children in Ireland."

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