A survey of three generations in Northern Ireland has found two-thirds of parents and grandparents believe childhood is worse today than they experienced.
The Action for Children Northern Ireland charity is calling on the government to establish a National Childhood Strategy to keep children safe from harm.
A staggering 65% of parents and 69% of grandparents surveyed in NI believe that childhood is worse – despite the backdrop of living through years of the Troubles during their own childhoods.
Ruth-Ann Delija, interim director of Action for Children Northern Ireland, said: “It’s crucial in this era of intense fiscal pressure that the focus on early intervention and mental health remains.
“The three generational survey shows that children today, far from being carefree, are struggling under the weight of social pressures, complex global issues and increasing levels of mental health issues.”
Cathal McCann, 16, from Ballynahinch, was helped through a mental health crisis by Action for Children Northern Ireland’s Blues Programme.
His mum Mandy said: “He wouldn’t even be here today if it wasn’t for Action. He was in a desperate place and totally depressed and the Blues Programme saved him.”
She added: “He was very low and even self-harming. When Action for Children reached out to help it was a game changer. He’s a different person now and loving life.”
Action for Children with YouGov explored the biggest issues affecting childhood today through comprehensive research across three UK generations.
The research, involving discussion groups and a quantitative survey of 5,000 children and adults UK-wide, included Northern Ireland,
On the question ‘do children have a brighter future?’ only 37% of children in Northern Ireland said they feel that they do.
It also found 37% of 11-18-year-olds here say they worry about their family having enough money to live comfortably; 44% say they worry about online safety, and 60% say they have too much pressure from school.
With the most vulnerable youngsters hit hardest, Action for Children is launching a new campaign called ‘Choose Childhood’ as it marks its 150th year.
Health and Social Care Board figures show the number of young people waiting over nine weeks to access Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services increased by more than 600% between the end of March 2018 and the same time this year.
Action for Children currently runs ‘The Blues Programme’ in schools across NI.
The programme begins with a detailed survey conducted with every child in a school year. The questions cover a wide range of issues.
Those children found to be at risk through their answers are then discreetly offered counselling sessions by the charity. Parents of such children are also offered guidance by the charity to help their children.
While the programme is already running in schools across NI, teachers can ask the charity to visit their school with the programme on tel 028 90 460 500.