Fighting for childhood in Northern Ireland How we're standing up for children

Illustration of a map of Northern IrelandWe're making life better for children in Northern Ireland by influencing public policy, legislation and practice through our local evidence-based research and services.

We have well-established relationships working with the NI Assembly, government departments and colleagues in statutory and voluntary agencies to ensure that children can be protected and abuse prevented.

Our 3 service centres offer a range of services for children and families and we're leading the way with our Young Witness Service and our innovative Keeping Safe pilot. Through evaluating our services and conducting research we're committed to finding out what's working and – more importantly – what isn't, and what we can do about it.

What we're calling for

We published How safe are our children? 2017 in June 2017. It is our fifth annual report compiling the most robust and up-to-date child protection data that exists across each of the 4 nations in the UK.

Compiling this data is part of our commitment to evidence, to help us to understand the problems we are seeking to address.

We've analysed the data looking at how safe our children are in Northern Ireland and used this to shape our priorities. Read our policy calls below and download our full Northern Ireland briefing paper (PDF).

What we want to see


There has been an increase in the reporting and recording of child abuse and neglect over the past 5 years. And while an increased confidence in confronting abuse should be welcomed, we must ensure that new government funding for therapeutic services is available to help abused children get back on track.

It is vital that the Department of Health improve early intervention where children have experienced trauma and prevent psychological distress from escalating into severe mental health issues. 

To ensure abused children receive appropriate therapeutic support we are urging the Northern Ireland Executive to:

  • commission a review into the availability and adequacy of therapeutic interventions for children who have been abused
  • collect regional data on the provision of therapeutic support for children who have been abused.

Find out more about our It’s Time campaign to make sure every child gets support after abuse.

MouseThe NI Executive needs to work closely with the UK government on the issue of keeping children and young safe on line.

Initiatives at Westminster and Stormont need to link together and work in tandem.

The NI e-safety strategy being led by the Department of Health should contain local measures to improve awareness raising of young people and their parents about online safety.

GavelChildren who experience the judicial process can find it a traumatising experience. The Victims and Witnesses Strategy (Department of Justice, 2015) has brought about a range of improvements for young victims and witnesses who have to give evidence in court – this includes the Young Witness Service  and the development of a Registered Intermediary Scheme.

To further build on policy and practice developments relating to young victims and witnesses in Northern Ireland, the Department of Justice should:

  • consider introducing a pilot study for pre-trial, pre-recorded cross examination to establish good practice
  • examine opportunities to establish effective cross border/ jurisdictional protocols for supporting young witnesses
  • explore the option of extending the provision of support at the point of interview/consultation.

There are over 2,900 children in care in Northern Ireland

Explanation: There were 2,983 looked after children in Northern Ireland at 31 March 2017.

364 of these children are placed with parents.

Northern Ireland does not publish data on why children become looked after. So we don't know how many become looked after due to abuse or neglect.

Children become looked after when they are under the care of the local authority. Looked after children are often referred to as children in care.

See also Indicator 17 in How safe are our children? 2018.

View the trend graph for Number of looked after children in Northern Ireland (PNG).

The number of looked after children in Northern Ireland has increased each year since 2011 and is now the highest recorded at 2,890 at 31 March 2016.

Children in and on the edge of care and those who have left care need the best possible services and support to fulfil their potential and have the best future. Priority areas relating to looked after children should include:

  • greater urgency to modernise the legal framework for adoption in NI, to place children’s welfare at the centre of the adoption decision-making process
  • updating (i) Children Order guidance relating to looked after children and (ii) regulations relating to children in residential and foster care
  • agreed models of assessment for the reunification of children with home
  • ensuring children receive a quality mental health assessment on entry to care, have their mental health monitored throughout their time in care and receive support where necessary.

Northern Ireland consultation responses

Our policy team in Northern Ireland respond to government consultations and write briefings to influence the development of policies and laws that affect children and young people. Below are the most recent government consultations we've responded to.

More consultation responses

Find older Northern Ireland consultation responses.

Search for consultation responses

Statistics on child protection in Northern Ireland

Official statistics help tell us how many children have been identified as needing support or protection in Northern Ireland.

See the statistics

How child protection works in Northern Ireland

Find out how the systems and laws of Northern Ireland work to help keep children safe from abuse and harm.

Find out more

Our research and resources

Children’s charter Northern Ireland: supporting and protecting children and young people

A snapshot of key issues relating to children in Northern Ireland.

Read the charter (PDF)

Information for child protection professionals in Northern Ireland

Read our guide about the NSPCC’s helpline and Childline services and how we can work with you to protect children and prevent abuse and neglect.

Read our guide

Looking after infant mental health: our case for change

Our cases for change emphasising the importance of looking after infant mental health.

Find out more

Keeping safe

A series of reports which highlight our findings from research on the development of effective preventative education in primary schools in Northern Ireland.
Find out more

Living with adversity: a qualitative study of families with multiple and complex needs

A literature review and a study into the experiences of families in Northern Ireland with multiple needs who were receiving support from Barnardo’s or NSPCC services.
Find out more

Helpline highlight: protecting children in Northern Ireland: 2012-13

Looks at the contacts made to the NSPCC from Northern Ireland in 2012/13. Part of the NSPCC's Helpline highlight series.
Find out more

More research from Northern Ireland

Find more research and resources from Northern Ireland in our library catalogue.

View research reports

Services for children and families in Northern Ireland

Boy leaning on a climbing frameWe have service centres across the United Kingdom which offer a combination of services to children, families and professionals. We support parents and families in caring for their children and provide therapeutic assistance to help children move on from abuse.

We also provide help and support through the NSPCC helpline, Childline and our work with schools.

What you can do in Northern Ireland

Child protection training and consultancy in Northern Ireland

We have a range of Northern Ireland specific training courses and a consultancy service that can help you grow your child protection knowledge and skills.
Find out more

Find an event near you

From marathon to skydives, bake sales to gala dinners, we've got an event for you in Northern Ireland.

Find an event near you

Make a donation today

A child will contact Childline every 25 seconds. Donate now and help us be there for every child.

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