NSPCC Northern Ireland has announced a new programme to tackle neglect by supporting and challenging parents who are struggling to care for their children.
Last year, almost half (47 percent) of the 2,401 children on the Child Protection Register in Northern Ireland were at risk of neglect, either alone or combined with other issues.
Concern about neglect is the single biggest reason for people contacting the NSPCC Helpline and there were 180 such contacts last year from Northern Ireland alone.
Of these contacts, 138 were so serious that they required the involvement of police or children’s services, a 29 per cent increase on the previous year. In the other cases, helpline counsellors provided advice, support and information to callers.
One Northern Ireland caller to the Helpline told the NSPCC about a toddler and child of primary school age whose mother drinks every day until late in the evening while the children are in her care, sometimes passing out and not hearing when the children cry.
The older child is seen on the streets late at night and sometimes turns up at friends’ houses very late. The caller said that the children are ‘not cared for properly’ as they are dirty and their clothes are not washed.
Neil Anderson, NSPCC Northern Ireland National Head of Service, said, ”The Compton Review placed an emphasis on early intervention and prevention, with the aim of tackling issues such as neglect before problems spiral out of control. But social workers tell us they need better tools and training to help them identify and tackle neglect earlier.
“Parents need access to support to help them to change behaviour which is neglectful and it is encouraging that investment is being made in family support services regionally.”
The charity is working with social workers and other professionals across the UK to find out what extra support and training they need. This research includes a survey in partnership with Community Care that is live online now and the NSPCC is urging social workers in Northern Ireland to take part.
Neil Anderson said, “We want members of the public to keep speaking up when they have a concern for the wellbeing of a child.
“Our work is showing that even in very challenging circumstances, families can be supported to prevent more children suffering the devastating consequences of neglect.
Obviously there will be times when children must be protected and taken into care but our experience shows that with the right support many families can adapt and improve their behaviour. The costs in both financial and human terms for supporting families to change are far lower than the costs of taking children into care.”
Recent figures show that there were 279 care applications in Northern Ireland last year, more than double the number in 2006/74. However, the reasons for this increase are hard to pinpoint, and are likely to be complex. NSPCC Northern Ireland would like to see the categorisation of reasons for care applications in the future in order to understand better the role neglect plays in these trends.
The NSPCC’s neglect programme in Northern Ireland includes a programme called Improving parenting, improving practice, which is being delivered from the NSPCC’s Belfast Service Centre.
The programme aims to support parents to improve their interaction with their children, increase communication and reduce neglect.
Anyone who thinks a child is being neglected, or suffering any kind of abuse, shouldn’t wait until they are certain there’s a problem. They can contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000, email email@example.com or report online at www.nspcc.org.uk/helpline or contact the Gateway service on 028 9050 7000.