Cases of child cruelty and neglect in Northern Ireland have increased by almost 350% over the last five years, figures suggest.
The NSPCC said 579 child cruelty and neglect offences were recorded by police in 2017/18, up from 132 in 2012/13.
Reports to the police included extreme cases of when a parent or carer wilfully assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, abandoned or exposed their child to serious harm.
The amount of police offences is mirrored by the number of calls made to the NSPCC helpline – totalling 19,937 last year about children suffering neglect – with three-quarters referred urgently to police or children’s services.
In 2017, 1,045 children from Northern Ireland were assessed as being at ongoing risk of significant harm from neglect.
Overall in the UK, neglect was the most common reason for contacting the NSPCC helpline, mentioned in 19,937 contacts, and last year there were 27,856 children in the UK on a child protection plan or register for concerns related to the issue.
A police recorded offence of child cruelty and neglect is where a parent or carer “wilfully assault, ill-treats, neglects, abandons or exposes a child under 16 in a manner likely to cause them unnecessary suffering or injury to health”.
Neil Anderson, head of NSPCC NI, said: “It’s unclear exactly why the number of child neglect and cruelty offences in NI has risen so dramatically.
“It is concerning to see the increase in reported crime but it is encouraging that victims are prepared to come forward.
“Whatever the reasons for the increase, child neglect is everybody’s problem and we all need to be aware of vulnerable children and be ready to report it to the NSPCC or the authorities if we are concerned for their safety or well-being.”