Increase in child cruelty cases in Northern Ireland

The PSNI records 341 offences for cruelty to children and young people in 2015-16

The number of cases of child cruelty and neglect reported in Northern Ireland has almost trebled over the past five years, prompting a charity to call on the Northern Executive to make a stronger commitment to protecting children.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) also reported a significant increase in the number of young people receiving hospital treatment for self-harm in the North.

The PSNI recorded 341 offences for cruelty to children and young people in 2015-16, compared to 116 cases in 2011-12, according to the NSPCC.

The most recent data also shows there were 1,969 children on the child protection register, with neglect remaining one of the biggest reasons for such registration.


To try and combat the problem the NSPCC reported on Christmas week that its specially-trained staff has taken its “Speak Out, Stay Safe” programme to 800 primary schools, and carried its message to more than 100,000 children.

“Cruelty and neglect is one of the most prevalent forms of child abuse in Northern Ireland and research shows it can lead to long-term physical, psychological and behavioural issues in later life,” said Neil Anderson, head of NSPCC Northern Ireland.

Public awareness

“We know that the effects can be devastating, and it’s clear that, as a society, we need to address this issue . . . Public awareness of the problem is rising, but research by the NSPCC estimates that for every child on the child protection register in Northern Ireland, there are a further eight who have suffered abuse.”

In terms of neglect and physical abuse, the NSPCC’s Northern Ireland helpline has seen a 35 per cent increase in the number of contacts it refers to external agencies such as health and social care agencies, and the PSNI.

Figures from the 24-hour advice line, which takes calls from people across Britain and Northern Ireland, showed 547 contacts from the North were passed on in 2015-16 – more than 10 per week – compared with 405 in 2012-13.

Contacts from members of the public concerned about neglect of a child rose from 181 in 2012-13 to 238 last year, up 31 per cent.

Northern Ireland referrals because of physical abuse rose from 89 in 2012-13 to 120 in 2015-16, a rise of 35 per cent. The number of contacts passed on because of emotional abuse increased 65 per cent from 43 in 2012-13 to 71 in 2015-16.

The contacts ranged from members of the public worried about young people who were victims of sexual abuse to children living in squalid conditions.

The charity said the figures showed the public was “increasingly unwilling to turn a blind eye when it comes to the welfare of children, and reflected a growing demand for advice and action to prevent child abuse”.

Mr Anderson said the Northern Executive in its programme for government needs to make a greater commitment to support children who have suffered. He called for the "development of clear guidelines on providing them with timely therapeutic support".

Rise in self-harm

Recent data also revealed a rise in the number of children and young people attending emergency care departments in Northern Ireland for self-harm.

Last year, more than 1,000 children and young people attended one of Northern Ireland’s five health trusts, a 21 per cent increase in the past three years.

In 2013-14, 866 under 18s went to Emergency departments, the following year 994 attended. In 2015-16, the figure had risen to 1,050.

The NSPCC said the figures it obtained from the North's Public Health Agency highlighted how children who have self-harmed are appearing in hospitals across Northern Ireland in greater numbers.

“A frightening number of children and teenagers are being driven to self-harm as a way of dealing with unresolved feelings, tensions and distress in their lives,” said Mr Anderson.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times