Reports of children being emotionally abused have more than trebled in Northern Ireland in seven years, according to new figures released by the NSPCC.
UK-wide, the NSPCC helpline was contacted over 10,000 times last year by people specifically concerned about children being subjected to emotional abuse.
One hundred of those cases involved children in Northern Ireland – up from 28 in 2009/10.
And of those cases, 66 were deemed so severe that they were referred to the police and/or children’s services.
Emotional abuse can have severe and persistent adverse effects on a child’s emotional development which can lead to issues in later life – like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance misuse, and suicidal feelings.
According to the NSPCC, 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.
However, the charity fears that the full scale of the problem could be much greater than even the figures suggest.
It is demanding that the Northern Ireland Executive, in conjunction with the UK Government, commissions a UK-wide study that looks at the prevalence of child abuse and neglect.
The NSPCC has published advice on signs that may point to emotional abuse, including if children:
become overly-affectionate towards strangers or people they haven't known for very long
lack confidence or become wary or anxious
become 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
Neil Anderson, Head of NSPCC in Northern Ireland, said: “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.”
The last study of the prevalence of child abuse and neglect was conducted in 2009 by the NSPCC.
Since then, the charity notes that there have been significant changes for children’s lives - not least the increase in reporting of online abuse, and big increases in reporting of child sexual abuse.
Any adult worried about a child can contact the NSPCC Helpline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, on 0808 800 5000 or by visiting www.nspcc.org.uk.Children can contact Childline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 0800 1111 or by visiting www.childline.org.uk.