This week Childline celebrated its 30th birthday with a blaze of publicity fronted by their founder and most prominent supporter and champion, Dame Esther Rantzen. Magazine and national and regional newspaper features about the tireless work of Dame Rantzen over the past 30 years, both in London and across the UK, were accompanied by a string of news stories about how Childline had seen a sharp rise in children and young people contacting them suffering from anxiety problems. This was followed by the announcement of Cheryl as the new Childline campaigner, with the Pop and TV star specifically looking to reach out to teenage girls who in the past may have thought they were too old for Childline or that their problems were not serious enough to warrant reaching out for help. All of this publicity served two important purposes for the NSPCC service. The first was to further raise its profile around the country, both with adults and young people, which in turn will hopefully encourage more children and teenagers in need to access the free and confidential service. The second was to highlight just how much Childline has changed in the past 30 years in terms of the issues it is dealing with and how it is engaging with all those who are seeking help.
When Childline launched from a London office in 1986 most children and young people contacted the service via a landline, with many doing so from a telephone box. The main concerns being raised during its first year included sexual and physical abuse, pregnancy and drug abuse. Fast forward to 2016 and you find Childline with 12 call-centres located across the UK delivering more than 300,000 counselling sessions a year. Almost three quarters of these are conducted online via email and 1-2-1 chat. One of the main challenges Childline now faces is how to cope with this growing demand, especially with the added time it takes to help children and young people when engaging with them over the internet. The types of problems counsellors are dealing with on a daily basis has also shifted, with mental health issues such as low self-esteem, self-harm, depressive disorders and, most worrying, suicidal feelings all featuring in the top ten concerns in 2015/16.
In response to these challenges Childline has redoubled its efforts to be there for every child and young person with extra volunteers being put on the peak shift of 8pm -1am. This has been complemented by the launch of a new website (www.childline.org.uk) which contains chat features, therapeutic tools and new ways of communicating with counsellors, and is soon to be followed by the first Childline app.
The service is also constantly looking to improve the accessibility of Childline, and reach out to vulnerable groups who may not use the service such as gang members, ethnic minorities and boys in general. It’s well-known that boys tend to bottle-up their feelings instead of talking about them, with statistics showing that four times more girls were counselled last year. Other new projects include piloting facilities for children who have hearing impairments. All this work is directed by Childline towards achieving the single overall objective of being there to listen and help 24/7 for every child or young person in need, no matter what their background or circumstances.
Children and young people can contact Childline in confidence 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 0800 1111 or by visiting www.childline.org.uk . Childline is a service provided by the NSPCC.