Cases of child cruelty and neglect in Northern Ireland have increased by almost 350% over the last five years, according to new figures.

The NSPCC said 579 child cruelty and neglect offences were recorded by police in 2017/18, up from 132 in 2012/13.

Reports to the police included extreme cases of when a parent or carer wilfully assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, abandoned or exposed their child to serious harm.

The amount of police offences is mirrored by the number of calls made to the NSPCC helpline - totalling 19,937 last year about children suffering neglect - with three quarters referred urgently to police or children's services.

In 2017, 1,045 children from Northern Ireland were assessed as being at ongoing risk of significant harm from neglect.

Neil Anderson, head of NSPCC NI, said: "It's unclear exactly why the number of child neglect and cruelty offences in NI has risen so dramatically.

"It is concerning to see the increase in reported crime but it is encouraging that victims are prepared to come forward.

"Whatever the reasons for the increase, child neglect is everybody's problem and we all need to be aware of vulnerable children and be ready to report it to the NSPCC or the authorities if we are concerned for their safety or wellbeing," he said.

A police-recorded offence of child cruelty and neglect is where a parent or carer "wilfully assault, ill-treats, neglects, abandons or exposes a child under 16 in a manner likely to cause them unnecessary suffering or injury to health".

Adults are urged to look out for common signs of neglect and abuse.

Poor appearance and hygiene, having unwashed clothes, being left alone for a long time and untreated injuries, medical and dental issues, as well as poor language, communication or social skills can all be reflective of neglect.

One NSPCC helpline practitioner, Tracey Hamer, highlighted that not all neglect may be wilful.

"The police went out to do a welfare check, and later told me that mum had been found unwell and violently vomiting and unable to care for her little girl, who was three years old," she said.

"The house was in a state of disrepair and the kitchen worktops were covered in dirty crockery with mould on them.

"The washing machine was broken, and mum said that water would come up through the pipes when she tried to use it so she couldn't clean any clothes."

Overall in the UK, neglect was the most common reason for contacting the NSPCC helpline, mentioned in 19,937 contacts, and last year there were 27,856 children in the UK on a child protection plan or register for concerns related to the issue.