There has been a dramatic and worrying increase in the number of local children deemed at risk of abuse.
Latest government figures show that the Southern Trust area, which includes Dungannon and South Tyrone, has experienced a 41 percent increase in the number of children who are believed at risk of abuse or neglect.
The Southern Trust area now has the highest number of investigations into suspected child abuse or neglect of all the trusts in Northern Ireland.
In the first three months of 2017, the Southern Trust had 579 children on the child protection register, an increase of 171 from the 2015 figure.
SDLP Councillor Sharon McAleer said the figures were worrying. “We all have a responsibility to ensure children are free from abuse. We need to put stronger emphasis on prevention of abuse and raising awareness”, she said.
“I find it very frustrating that the NI Executive Government are responsible for child protection in NI and yet they can’t agree to function as a government”, said Councillor McAleer. “The parties must set aside their differences and start working together as a government to ensure the policies continue to meet the needs of vulnerable adults and children.”
The highest amount of local children at risk were in the 5-11 age range, 223.
The most common reason for alarm bells being rung over a child’s welfare was the risk of physical abuse only, in 242 cases, followed by neglect only at 123 cases.
A total of 44 children were referred because of the risk of sexual abuse only.
The steep rise has been mirrored in other parts of the UK, with child protection experts saying economic pressures were linked to the abuse and neglect of children, and warning that social services were struggling to cope with the increase.
Across Northern Ireland, 2,130 children were listed on the child protection register, representing a 3% decrease on the previous quarter and a decrease of 1% on the previous year.
Taking account of local demographics, register counts per 10,000 children’s population (under 18) ranged from 42.3 in the Northern HSC Trust to 60.7 in the Southern HSC Trust; overall there were 49.1 children per 10,000 on the register;
Four out of five (80%) children were on the register due to physical abuse, neglect or a combination of physical abuse and neglect.
Some 69% of children on the Child Protection Register at 31 March 2017 had been on the register for less than one year with 2% of children on the register for three years or longer.