Reports of children being emotionally abused in the south-west were up by 30% last year, according to numbers released by the NSPCC.

The figures show that calls to the charity’s helpline from concerned adults leapt from 659 in 2015/16 to 854 in 2016/17.

However, the rise was even more pronounced across the rest of the UK, with a 200% increase meaning 10,009 calls were taken – on average 27 a day.

“Child emotional abuse entails the ongoing abuse of children; them being emotionally put-down and told they are worthless,” said Harriet Knowles, a children’s services practitioner qualified social worker at NSPCC’s Swindon service centre.

“The ongoing abuse can make children feel worthless and unloved and can cause problems later on in life. It can result in mental health issues, and even substance abuse.

“From the helpline, we normally get reports from members of the public. It might be family members, neighbours, family friends, or other parents in the playground – other people who are having contact with these children.

“The trained people who work on the helpline, if they are concerned, they would report it to the local authorities: social workers, and in extreme cases even the police.”

Helpline staff have heard accounts of parents telling their children that they wish they were dead, children being threatened with extreme violence, and the blame for parents’ financial problems or unemployment being placed on their children.

Of the 854 calls about child emotional abuse in the south-west last year, three in four were deemed serious enough to report to social services or the police.

Harriet explained how emotional abuse is often tied into other forms of exploitation, and the strain on the services they provide: “We often see that children who have been sexually abused have also been emotionally abused – emotional abuse can lead to children misplacing trust, either in the emotional abuser or another adult.

“In the Swindon service centre, we do work for children who have experienced sexual abuse – we have a huge waiting list for our sexual abuse service, we’re talking 3-6 months. That’s to get around to assessing a case, just because of the level of supply and demand.”

Staff on the NSPCC helpline noticed three common themes across the calls: domestic violence, alcohol or substance abuse, and mental health issues. On-going emotional abuse can lead to issues later in a child’s life, such as depression, eating disorders and suicidal feelings.

NSPCC advice says that signs children may be victims of emotional abuse include them being over-affectionate towards other adults or strangers, acting aggressively or nastily towards other children and struggling to control strong emotions.

“I think, first and foremost, if people have any concerns they should call the NSPCC’s helpline,” said Harriet.

“Early intervention is key: prevention is better than cure.”