Reports of children being emotionally abused have more than trebled in Northern Ireland in seven years according to new NSPCC figures.
The charity’s annual report ‘How Safe Are Our Children’ found that since 2009/10 the number of contacts to the NSPCC helpline from people concerned about emotional abuse has risen from 28 to 100 in Northern Ireland.
Helpline staff are hearing accounts of parents telling their children they hate them or wished they were dead, threatening them with extreme violence and blaming them for issues they are facing themselves such as unemployment or financial problems.
Last year the NSPCC’s helpline dealt with 842 contacts from Northern Ireland and 12% (100) of these related to emotional abuse. Sixty-six were so severe they were referred to police and/or children’s services.
Neil Anderson, head of NSPCC in Northern Ireland, said: “Hearing reports from our helpline about parents or carers who are consistently verbally assaulting, bullying, isolating or humiliating their children is devastating.
“The increase in people recognising and reporting emotional abuse to our helpline indicates people are willing to take action, but the disturbing truth is that in Northern Ireland we have no idea how many other children are suffering from emotional abuse or in fact, any type of abuse.
“We urgently need the Northern Ireland Executive in conjunction with the UK government and other devolved nations to step in now, before another eight years go by, and commission a study that gives us the clearest possible picture of the extent of child abuse and neglect in the UK.”
Despite a significant increase in the amount of people reporting emotional abuse to the NSPCC helpline over the last seven years, it is unclear how many more children are suffering from emotional abuse, or any other form of maltreatment, because of a lack of research into the extent of abuse. The last study of this kind took place in 2009.
Helpline practitioners identified three common themes raised by callers concerned that a child was being emotionally abused. These included domestic violence, alcohol or substance abuse, and mental health issues.
Because there’s an element of emotional abuse in all other types of child abuse and neglect, it can be difficult to spot the signs and to separate what’s emotional abuse from other types of abuse.
The NSPCC has published advice on the signs you may notice in a child’s actions or emotions:
• be overly affectionate towards strangers or people they haven’t known for very long
• lack confidence or become wary or anxious
• be aggressive or nasty towards other children and/or animals
• struggle to control strong emotions or have extreme outbursts
• lack social skills or have few, if any, friends.
Any adult worried about a child can contact the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.