Teachers should be trained to gain better understanding of neglected or abused pupils

Peter Martin (centre) with DUP leader Arlene Foster and former education minister Peter Weir

TEACHERS should be trained to gain deeper awareness of abused or neglected children, a new report has urged.

Hope For Every Child by DUP councillor Peter Martin examined how outcomes for young people could be improved.

It focussed on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) - negative environmental experiences or influences on a child as they grow up, often in the family home.

Mr Martin said these formed a critical aspect of a child's overall mental health.

His report suggested that the north lagged behind Scotland and Wales in helping physically or emotionally neglected or abused children.

The costs of not properly addressing ACEs and children's mental health were "simply staggering", he said.

Continuous neglect, abuse or family separation, he added, could have devastating long term consequences for the child and also for society.

If Northern Ireland was to be made a safer place, there was a need to look at these children and ask how could they be better supported, the report found.

"The 'Golden Fleece' that we are seeking is a safer, more prosperous Northern Ireland with strong resilient children and families with strong relationships and attachments," Mr Martin said.

The report made several recommendations, which Mr Martin suggested could be achieved with a "reasonably modest" amount of funding - £5 million a year for a decade.

Greater investment in early childhood interventions, his report said, could result in falling rates of drug abuse, alcoholism and mental health problems in future.

There would be real added value in providing a programme of training for teachers, administered through the Education Authority, it suggested.

This would provide a deeper awareness of ACEs and also how to deal with children who are suffering from them.

"They would essentially become 'trauma enhanced'. I have estimated the cost of a half day training programme for all Primary 1 teachers to be in the region of £150,000. This would include both staff cover costs (for the school) and full training costs," the report said.

The report further recommended increasing the number of educational psychologists and health visitors.

There should also be an increase in the number of school nurture units which help small groups of vulnerable children. Additional schools should be selected on the basis of equality, objective need and social deprivation.

"Schools should be actively encouraged to embed resilience through ensuring continued roll out of best practice such as peer support and school based mental health leadership teams," Mr Martin added.

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