Northern Ireland

Child abuse deaths 'drop dramatically' says NI review

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Media captionBBC Newsline's Conor Mcauley reports.

The number of children who have died in Northern Ireland from abuse or neglect over the past 40 years has been "dropping dramatically", according to a new report.

The first review of its kind was conducted by Queen's University and the NSPCC.

Dr John Devaney, who oversaw the research, said it showed that NI's child protection system was working.

"We have a very robust children protection system," he said.

The report, Translating Learning into Action, will be launched later on Thursday. Researchers took a sample of 24 reports on children who died or were seriously injured.

Dr Devaney said it was clear that in the vast majority of cases, none of the deaths could have been predicted.

"But there are key things we could do like ensuring families get support at a much earlier stage and that the resources are available for professionals to stay involved with families for longer to ensure that improvements made are sustained," he said.

The report also found there are now more children on protection registers than five years ago but the authors put that down to there being a better protection system in place.

Image caption Dr Devaney said it was clear NI's child protection system was working

The report drew a number of conclusions: ยท

- The rate of non-accidental child deaths in Northern Ireland continues to fall as a consequence of having a strong child protection system;

- The majority of the 24 case reviews commented positively on the dedication and professionalism of individual staff working with the families subject to review;

- The children in these reports were amongst hundreds living in very similar circumstances and who were known to professionals, and the reviews concluded that it was unlikely that the children who died or were seriously injured could have been identified as being at heightened risk;

- There is a need for services to become involved at an earlier stage with families before problems became entrenched and harder to improve;

- Services need to stay involved for longer with some families to ensure that improvements in parenting are consolidated in the longer term;

The report's authors said therapeutic services to children should be provided to address the psychological harm of poor parenting.

They said professionals should be provided with opportunities to meet together more frequently to co-ordinate assessments and interventions with children and families.

"Senior managers across organisations must take greater responsibility for ensuring that workloads of individual professionals are manageable and commensurate with their level of experience," the report's authors said.

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