Northern Ireland lags well behind Wales and Scotland in helping young children who are neglected or abused, a report released by the DUP suggests.
Hope for Every Child looks at the support available to those who suffer Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
“Wales and Scotland are well ahead of NI in terms of ACE awareness and the levels of subsequent support and training,” the report concludes.
Its author, a DUP councillor, said NI needs to become “trauma-informed”.
‘Brick through window’
That means more understanding of why children may end up in trouble, and putting in place appropriate interventions to reduce this.
“Proactive prevention is more efficient, effective and fiscally sound than reactive cure,” said the report by Cllr Peter Martin.
“Very often this is about firstly identifying and then supporting both young children and parents in extremely difficult circumstances,” it added.
“To give an illustrative example, is it the child’s fault that they have put a brick through someone’s window?
“It is because they perpetrated the act against an innocent person, but equally, we need to consider why they did it?”
The report cites figures from the Department of Justice which show that 2,568 of offences recorded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland in 2015/16 were committed by young people aged 10-17.
Mr Martin also cites research from Public Health Wales which suggests that children exposed to abuse, neglect and family dysfunction are 20 times more likely to end up in prison than children who suffer no ACEs.
“If we want to make Northern Ireland a safer place, we do not require bigger prisons,” he said.
“Instead we need to look at the children in our society and ask how can we better support them.”
The report recommends a number of measures including:
- All government departments producing policies targeting the first three years of a child’s development
- Increasing the number of educational psychologists and health visitors in Northern Ireland
- Protection of funding for early intervention programmes
- An increase in the number of school nurture units which help small groups of vulnerable children in schools
- More programmes aimed at reducing domestic violence
- Better support for mothers suffering post-natal depression and anxiety
The report suggests that a “reasonably modest” amount of government funding – £5m a year for 10 years – could pay for many of the recommendations.
Mr Martin does note that there is good work being carried out to support at-risk young people in Northern Ireland, but said there had to be a willingness from politicians and others working in the health and education sectors to drive change forward.
He also said that greater investment in early childhood interventions could also result in falling rates of childhood abuse and neglect, drug abuse, alcoholism and mental health problems in future.