Surge in Sunderland child abuse reports

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SHOCKING cases of child abuse could be spurring Wearsiders to pick up the phone.

The NSPCC’s latest figures show an annual increase of 35 per cent in the number of calls to its helpline from people in Sunderland concerned about young people they fear are at risk.

However, charity bosses believe that rise doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in the number of youngsters suffering abuse in the city, but, rather, greater awareness of such issues among the public following high-profile cases.

The year before last, the number of referrals in Sunderland following calls to the NSPCC helpline was 82. However, that figure rose to 111 last year.

Across the whole of the North East and Cumbria, the figure increased by six per cent from 905 calls reporting potential abuse or neglect so serious that it needed to be investigated, to 959.

However, in County Durham, there was a 12 per cent decrease in the number of such referrals, from 183 to 161.

John Cameron, of the NSPCC help-line, said: “These figures do not necessarily represent more abuse or neglect in the region, but are likely to show that people are more willing to take action and pick up the phone following recent shocking cases.

“It’s encouraging that people feel they have a responsibility for vulnerable children and are acting to report their concerns.

“We urge the public and professionals to continue to act on their instincts when they feel something could be wrong and not wait until they are certain. We work closely with local authorities who take the next, vital step in protecting these children, and we want to support and advise anyone working with children and enable them to take urgent action when necessary.”

Examples of calls to the helpline included people worried about filthy living conditions and others concerned about children asking neighbours for food because they were so hungry.

The latest national figures from the NSPCC show that between April 2012 and March this year, the charity’s counsellors referred 73 per cent of contacts about neglect to the police or social services – a total of 9,803 calls or e-mails. During the same period, the NSPCC helpline received 7,347 contacts about child sexual abuse.

Mr Cameron said it is also extremely worrying that nationally half of the referrals involve children aged under five, including babies.