Referrals from NSPCC’s adult helpline to agencies in Northern Ireland surge during pandemic
Almost 1200 referrals made from NSPCC helpline to external agencies in Northern Ireland last year – a 72% rise from 2019/2020
Adult’s mental health and behaviour was the top concern
NSPCC Northern Ireland reveals plans for Childhood Day this June which will bring people together to celebrate play, raise money and help keep children safe
A dramatic rise in child welfare referrals from the NSPCC helpline to external agencies, such as the police or children’s services in Northern Ireland, in the last year has been revealed by the child protection charity.
The NSPCC has two helpline bases in the UK – one is in Belfast.
There were 1,192 referrals made by the helpline to external agencies in Northern Ireland in 2020/21 – a 72% increase compared to 2019/20. Referrals are made when concerns reported to the helpline are considered serious enough to warrant further investigation.
The top reason for referrals remains unchanged, with concerns relating to parental and adult mental health and behaviour which resulted in 227 referrals to Northern Irish based agencies. This includes worries about parental alcohol and substance misuse, domestic abuse and parental mental health.
This was followed by:
Physical abuse – 213 referrals made by the NSPCC helpline to agencies in Northern Ireland
Emotional abuse – 186 referrals made by the NSPCC helpline to agencies in Northern Ireland
A parent from Northern Ireland contacted the helpline with worries about their child:
"I separated from my ex-husband a while ago and our son lives with me during the week and stays with his father during the weekends. My son told me that his father started to punch him in the stomach when he didn't do his homework. My son is really scared to go back to his father. I was too afraid to report anything at the time as my ex-husband has abused me in the past, but now I feel I have to do something." *
A member of the public from Northern Ireland also contacted the helpline to report concerns about neighbouring children:
“I’m calling as I’m worried about three young children who live in the same apartment building, aged between 2 and 9 years old. For the last few months, the mother and her partner have been hosting parties at their flat every weekend, even though we’re technically still in lockdown. These parties go on throughout the night with lots of people coming and going. Both of the parents are heavy drinkers too; they seem to be drunk all the time, even during the day: one time I witnessed the mother was off her face in the front garden, whilst her kids were wondering around the street in their underwear. I’m really worried about the environment these kids are living in right now – surely this is a matter for children’s services?” *
Across the UK, a record number of adults with concerns about children called the NSPCC in the last 12 months, as contacts to its helpline surged by nearly a quarter.
The service received nearly 85,000 contacts from April 2020 to March 2021, a 23% increase on the previous year, with 47% of these leading to a referral to an external agency such as the police or children’s services.
The figures echo concerns from the charity’s frontline teams that the pandemic has increased the risks of abuse and neglect, with children both more vulnerable and out of sight of people who can keep them safe.
The NSPCC is now warning that with most children back in schools and society, the hidden harms they experienced during the lockdowns will become visible.
The charity is calling for the Governments across the UK to invest in a positive future for children by ensuring their catch-up plans go beyond education.
In the short term, they must address the harm and trauma children may have faced in the past 12 months, but Governments must also use the opportunity to invest in keeping children safe and well in the future.
Natalie Whelehan, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for NSPCC Northern Ireland said:
“To build a better future for children in Northern Ireland, we want to see a renewed focus on babies, children and young people and a long term plan to help them recover from their lockdown experiences.
“We are calling on the Northern Ireland Executive and the Department of Health to provide the resources needed by children’s services to enable them to identify and support children who have experienced trauma during lockdown and ensure that adequate support services are available to provide the help they need.”
Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC CEO, said:
“We’ve been hearing first-hand about the immense pressures families have faced during the pandemic and the heavy toll that has taken on children and young people. For some children, this has included experiencing abuse, bereavement and other harm.
“The record number of contacts to our helpline reinforces the need for Governments across the UK to put children at the heart of their recovery plans. These must go beyond education and address the harm some have experienced so the pandemic doesn’t leave a legacy of trauma for children.
“But this isn’t just a job for our Governments. Everyone has to play their part in keeping children safe. And that’s why we’re planning Childhood Day on 11 June when we’ll celebrate childhood and encourage people to get involved in making sure all children grow up happy and safe.”
The campaign will celebrate childhood by bringing everyone together to play, raise money and help keep children safe. It will put a spotlight on what it is to be a child, whilst also showing we must work together to prevent abuse and protect children.
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The NSPCC helpline is staffed by trained professionals who can provide expert advice and support for adults with concerns about a child, or for parents, carers and professionals looking for information or guidance.