Belfast Telegraph

Sean Holland: We all need to work together to break this cycle of trauma

By Sean Holland

In Northern Ireland, the ambition of Government departments is to improve wellbeing for all by tackling disadvantage and driving economic growth.

In delivering this ambition, we are committed to working towards a more equal society, where children have the best possible start in life and where everyone is supported to lead long, healthy and active lives.

Yet there are people in our society - sometimes children and young people - who are living under threat and in fear of violent attacks from paramilitaries. This needs to stop. Paramilitary-style attacks have a devastating effect on people's health and wellbeing.

People who experience violence, or live in fear of violence, are likely to experience negative impacts on not just their physical health. Their mental health and wellbeing is also likely to suffer as a result.

I am privileged and proud to offer my support to the Ending the Harm campaign, and the Department of Health will continue to work together with our partners across all sectors to stop these brutal attacks.

Professor Liam Kennedy's research provides a stark lesson on the impacts of paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland, particularly on some of the most vulnerable in our society.

A significant proportion of the victims of paramilitary attacks are children - between 1990 and 2013, over 500 children under the age of 17 were victims of paramilitary shootings or beatings.

For every child who has been shot or beaten, there will be others who are under threat from paramilitaries and who live in fear of them.

In the short term, every attack means an ambulance is called, people are taken to hospital, undergo surgery and treatment and may need support services over many years. At a time when our Health and Social Care service is already under pressure, this demand on valuable resources is completely avoidable.

But the consequences of these attacks, this fear, can also last a lifetime.

People who have suffered such appalling abuse are at greater risk of alcohol or substance abuse, and mental and physical health problems.

And we now know that these lasting effects of trauma can be passed down through generations, from parent to child.

I would send a very clear message to anyone who thinks that these attacks are somehow justified. A paramilitary assault on a child is child abuse.

None of us would tolerate the sexual abuse of a child, or the neglect of a child. Why would we stand by or condone a paramilitary assault on a child?

But, unlike other forms of child abuse, some people in our society still think that children who are subject to a paramilitary assault deserve it.

As a society, we all need to work together to stop these attacks, and break this cycle of trauma.

The launch of this campaign is an important step on that journey.

Sean Holland is the Chief Social Work officer for Northern Ireland

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