NSPCC helpline calls up 58% in Northern Ireland
A child protection helpline has reported a 58% rise in the number of calls it received from Northern Ireland last year, compared to the previous year.
The NSPCC responded to 691 NI contacts over a 12-month period in 2011/2012.
More than half of the calls (353), resulted in referrals to police or children's services.
The NSPCC said one third of callers from NI had child protection concerns for six months before speaking out.
A further 21% delayed reporting their concerns by between one and six months.
The NSPCC operates a telephone helpline and an online service for adults who are concerned about the welfare of a child or young person.
The calls that were referred to local authorities in Northern Ireland involved a total of 717 children.
Margaret Gallagher, campaigns co-ordinator for the NSPCC in Northern Ireland, said delays in reporting concerns could contribute to the distress and suffering of a child experiencing abuse or neglect.
"We understand that it's incredibly difficult to pick up the phone, and we are really grateful to those people who do take action when they have concerns," she said.
"People clearly have the desire to act but are unsure how or when to do it. What we would emphasise is that trained professionals assess the information given and either give advice and support to the caller or make a referral to children's services or police if required."
The charity has launched a local campaign to encourage the public to report their concerns at an early stage.
Ms Gallagher said most of the referrals from helpline concerned "neglect, physical abuse and sexual abuse" and many of the children identified by callers were not known to existing services.
"The majority of contacts leading to referrals came from members of the public, not from family members or professionals.
"While many of the contacts to the helpline simply result in our counsellors providing child protection advice and guidance to parents, relatives, friends and members of the public, the key message we want to send is 'don't wait until you're certain'," she said.
The NSPCC has also signed up to a memorandum of understanding with the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), that aims to establish a "seamless interface" with health and social services.
Neil Anderson, head of NSPCC services in Northern Ireland, added:"The important thing for everyone to know is that this an around-the-clock service where adults can report, or seek advice on, child protection concerns.
"We will continue to work with colleagues in the statutory and voluntary sectors, and the general public in Northern Ireland, to raise awareness of the helpline."