NSPCC Asks Politicians To Focus On Child Welfare

Dear Editor,

Appeal to Politicians To Keep Children’s Welfare In Focus

With the ongoing need to resolve our long-standing problems at Stormont still pressing, it is vitally important that all our politicians retain a clear focus on protecting children in Northern Ireland as our political institutions take shape.

We should prioritise what needs to be done and an area that we should focus on is supporting education and teachers in the key role of keeping children safe.

The need for this is urgent. The number of child sex offences recorded in Northern Ireland soared by nearly a fifth to a record 1,809 last year – almost five every day – according to figures published by PSNI.

Children can face years of abuse before they have the courage to speak out. And as well as ruining childhoods this abuse can have devastating effects long into adulthood. Perpetrators of child abuse rely on it remaining in the shadows and it takes on average over seven years for a victim of child abuse to tell someone about what has happened to them.

The NSPCC believes schools and teachers play a crucial role in keeping children safe from abuse and neglect and they need to be supported in this important work.

Research clearly shows that the earlier a child receives help, the better the outcome. Teachers have the opportunity to get to know their pupils and because of this unique relationship they can spot the early signs of abuse. Schools are where our children feel protected, and children and young people often turn to teachers when they have a worry or a problem. Teachers spend a huge part of children’s days with them, and we should not underestimate the importance of that relationship in keeping them safe.

There are a range of initiatives underway that are already making a difference. Schools counselling for young people is already in operation, as well as a regional schools child protection service and the commitment of many teachers who formally take on this role in schools. 

The NSPCC is also tackling the issue head-on with a range of ground-breaking initiatives well under way across Northern Ireland. Our unique Speak out, Stay Safe programme provides age appropriate assemblies and specialist workshops for primary school pupils on how to keep themselves safe and, importantly, how to speak out to those they trust. The service has visited 90% of school across Northern Ireland to date.

NSPCC Northern Ireland is also developing a programme called Keeping Safe, which aims to teach every child from P1-P7 messages to keep them safe from all forms of abuse. Schools are provided with training and digital resources to teach children in an interactive, age-appropriate and engaging way. These services complement each other and are at the leading edge of how we as a society can work with education professionals to keep children safe from the horrors of abuse and neglect.

It is crucial that the funding is put in place by the new executive place to support the innovative work in preventative education already under way. High-quality early intervention will ultimately prevent more children from becoming victims of abuse, and investment in these services is something which should be valued and supported.

We also must remember that we all have a role to play in protecting children. When children speak up about abuse, they need to feel like they will be listened to and it is important to spot the signs if something isn’t right and offer that support. Our adult helpline is always available to provide this support on 0808 800 5000.

But supporting children to report abuse and to help them recover from abuse is not enough. We need to prevent abuse from happening in the first place and change more childhoods for the better.

Yours sincerely,

Colin Reid,

(Policy Manager for NSPCC in Northern Ireland).