Minister urges public to report child protection concerns

Date published: 21 April 2020

Health Minister Robin Swann has expressed concern at evidence of a significant decrease in child protection referrals in Northern Ireland.

Minister Swann

The Minister emphasises that, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, children’s services remain open and ready to help protect children and support families.

Mr Swann stated: “I am advised that the number of child protection referrals during the first three weeks of April 2020 was 38% lower that the weekly average of 2019.

 “Normally social services receive referrals from a range of sources, including schools, GPs, extended family and hospital nurses.  But with school closures, and potential reluctance to attend GPs or hospitals, there is a risk that children in need are not being identified.

 “I would urge members of the public to contact Health and Social Care Trust Gateway Services or the NPSCC helpline if they have concerns about a child not being safe or receiving the care they need. Any concerns that a child is in immediate danger should be referred to the PSNI via 999 without delay.

 “During these difficult times, families are facing different pressures. There is a range of support available in the community, including through Family Support Hubs which are continuing to support families in a number of creative and innovative ways.”  

Chief Social Work Officer Seán Holland said: “While the figures fluctuate from week to week and it is too early to have a full picture, a drop in referrals is a trend that is being seen across the UK.

“This is a trend that has worrying consequences for children whose needs are at risk of not being seen or heard.

“Combined with the extra pressures that lockdown restrictions are putting on families, there is a worry that more children are not getting the support they need in order to keep them safe and well.

“Colleagues across safeguarding organisations are working hard to mitigate these risks. They need maximum support from the public to help keep children safe.”

The Health and Social Care Trusts, PSNI and the Education Authority are continuing to work together to identify and provide extra support to children and families who need it at this time.

The PSNI will continue to work in partnership with Health and Social Care Trusts to investigate child abuse. Trusts will continue to support children and their families and where necessary seek direction from the courts to make children safe.

Despite the absence of formal classroom settings, the Education Authority will continue to support and engage children and young people through other education services, such as Youth Service, Educational Welfare and exceptional teaching arrangements. These supports will be particularly focused towards children who are identified as needing the most support and protection. 

There are 29 Family Support Hubs across Northern Ireland.  Contact details for local Hubs can be accessed at

To find out contact details of your local Trust Gateway Services please visit:


Notes to editors: 

1. Figures on referrals to social services are normally collected quarterly but are currently being collected on a weekly basis. Because of this, figures may not have gone through the normal validation processes and therefore may be subject to change. There can also be fluctuation from week to week which could potentially mask or amplify areas of concern.

2. Child protection agencies:

Gateway Services are open Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm

Belfast Health and Social Care Trust - 02890 507000 -

South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust - 03001000300 -

Northern Health and Social Care Trust - 03001234333 -

Southern Health and Social Care Trust - 08007837745 -

Western Health and Social Care Trust - 02871314090 -

Out of Hours Regional Emergency Social Work Service - 02895 049999

3. Members of the public can call or email the NSPCC to report a concern about a child or young person NSPCC Helpline - 08088005000 -

4. Should a child or young person need to speak to someone in confidence they can call NSPCC Childline – 08001111 -

5. In an emergency the police should be contacted on 999.

6. For media enquiries please contact DoH Press Office by email: Out of hours please contact the Duty Press Office on 028 9037 8110.

7. Follow us on twitter @healthdpt.

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