CHILDHOOD suicide accounted for more than a fifth of all deaths among 10 to 17-year-olds in 2011, a new report has revealed.
Sixteen youngsters in that age group took their own lives while almost 1,000 were admitted to hospital with self-harm injuries.
Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the figures highlighted the need for early intervention to support vulnerable youths.
"If we don't intervene, the cost will be very high to society," Ms Fitzgerald warned.
Figures in the new State of the Nation's Children Report showed childhood suicide in 2011 was higher among boys - with 13 taking their own lives compared with three girls.
However, the number of 10 to 17-year-olds who died by suicide in 2011 was down from the previous three years.
In 2010, there were 19 suicides within the age group, 19 in 2009 and 25 in 2008.
The report, published by Ms Fitzgerald, found that 904 children in the 10 to 17 age group were admitted to a hospital emergency department in 2011 following deliberate self-harm.
While suicide was higher among boys, self-harm was almost twice as high among girls with 588 intentionally hurting themselves compared with 316 boys.
Meanwhile, 435 youngsters were admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 2011.
Ms Fitzgerald said the report was "generally very positive", describing Ireland as "a great place to grow up in".
She pointed out that the country's 1,148,687 children account for a quarter of the population.
The number of children increased by 13.4pc between 2002 and 2011, meaning Ireland now has the highest proportion of children of any European Union country.
While many of the report's findings were positive - with an increase in youngsters admitting they have never smoked, a decrease in teenage pregnancy and a 45.1pc drop in the number of children on a hospital waiting list - a string of other negative points were highlighted.
About one in every nine primary school children missed 20 days or more in the school year while around one in every six secondary school children missed 20 days or more.
The figure were higher in more disadvantaged Deis schools - at 29.6pc - compared with 15.3pc in non-Deis schools.
Ms Fitzgerald, who recently published reports on cyber bullying and wellbeing among children, said missing days at school was often an indicator of a vulnerable child - whether emotionally or socio-economically.
"If we don't support these vulnerable children, they will drop out of school, they will under-achieve, they will end up in detention," she said.
"There's a real socio-economic imperative to focus on this."
The minister said rates of obesity among young girls was also "very disturbing". She added: "The data on obesity remains a problem - it is very disturbing.
"It is very clear we share this problem across Europe. But the answer is not just initiatives within the Department of Health. We need a whole Government approach to tackle it."
Other key findings in the report, which is the fourth in a biennial series, included:
- Almost a fifth of seven-year-olds were classified either overweight or obese in 2010. The problem was more prevalent among girls, with 23pc deemed overweight or obese compared with 15pc of boys aged seven;
- The number of traveller children is up 30.3pc and the number of foreign national children is up 49.5pc;
- The number of children in lone-parent households has increased by 10.2pc;
- The number of children in the care of the Health Service Executive increased by 16pc between 2007 and 2011;
- In 2011, 83.6pc of newborn babies were visited by a public health nurse within 48 hours of discharge from hospital for the first time - up from 73.2pc in 2007;
- The number of children on a hospital waiting list awaiting treatment decreased by 45.1pc between 2009 and 2012;
- The proportion of children who have never had an alcoholic drink increased from 40pc in 2002 to 54.1pc in 2010.
Figures in the report were compiled from administrative, survey and Census data on children's lives by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
It worked closely with the Central Statistics Office and the Health Promotion Research Centre at National University of Ireland, Galway.