‘Horrors some NI children live in is too far fetched even for Eastenders’

Dr Julieann Maney from the Royal Belfast Hospital For Sick ChildrenDr Julieann Maney from the Royal Belfast Hospital For Sick Children
Dr Julieann Maney from the Royal Belfast Hospital For Sick Children
A Belfast paediatrician says that the deprivation and horrors that some children live through in Northern Ireland “is too far fetched for even Eastenders”.

Dr Julie-Ann Maney from the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children was speaking after noting that she is regularly dealing with 14-month-old children who are so malnourished that they hide toast in their nappies when they are being fed. 

“We have seen little 14-month-old infants here who are so hungry when you offer them toast and milk they stuff toast into their nappies,” she said. “Every couple of months we will see a child that is very badly neglected. Hungry starving. I work in child safeguarding and as a forensic medical examiner.

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“Hiding toast in their nappies is not even a shocking anecdote - that was mild. The deprivation and horrors that some children have to live through it is too far fetched for even Eastenders.”

She has helped author several reports on child poverty.

“We have the highest infant mortality rate in the UK and therefore in western Europe. And that can be put down to poverty, poor maternal health, poor perinatal health, lower rates of breast feeding smoking in pregnancy - all related directly to poverty.

“The second cause of death among our young people was violence and suicide. And again, lots of those cases can be linked back to poverty. Poor children are twice as likely to die as rich ones.”

Every month she sees children that are so hungry that they gorge food when they come into the hospital’s emergency department.

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“At Christmas and Easter time if you give them an Easter Egg or chocolate they are just so delighted and grateful for any wee bit of kindness.For some if they have suffered a bad injury we will give them a wee toy and they are just so delighted with it. It would break your heart.”

The problem is NI wide, both urban and rural.

“Sometimes parents cannot take on board advice through no fault of their own because they just cannot afford to give them what we are advising. Five portions of fruit and vegetables a day for a child that is constipated is expensive if you are struggling to heat your home and feed all your children.”

There are 500,00 children in NI and a quarter to one third are poor, she says.

She would like the Stormont Executive are to prioritise the publication of The Overarching Children and Young People’s Strategy and to have a Child Poverty Strategy.

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“It is getting worse. We go to Stormont with our reports and hope things will change but it is not and things are on the decline for our children. All I can do is raise the issue.”

The Department for Communities says it recently announced the extension of the 2016/19 Poverty Strategy to May 2022, which will allow time for engagement on how to address child poverty in the longer term.

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