AS THE NSPCC’s Childline service celebrates its 35th birthday, the children’s charity has issued a stark warning to new members of the Senedd at a special event to mark the anniversary.
Politicians and leading representatives from across the social care sector joined the NSPCC for a virtual gathering recognising the important role Childline has had for generations of children and young people across Wales, and the need that’s still there.
Childline was established in London in 1986 with just 40 volunteers after a helpline set up following a BBC television programme on child abuse, hosted by Dame Esther Rantzen, was inundated with calls. Since then, Childline has delivered more than 5.5 million counselling sessions to children and young people across the UK.
Policy and Public Affairs Manager for NSPCC Cymru/Wales, Cecile Gwilym says: “Welsh Government has a huge opportunity to shape a more positive future for children and young people in Wales at such a pivotal time.
“Our frontline teams, including Childline, have seen and heard how children have been at increased risk of abuse and neglect over the past 18 months. The pandemic has created new pressures for children and young people, while often exacerbating issues they may have already been navigating such as family problems or their own mental wellbeing.
“As well as making sure children have access to the right support to help them recover, it’s clear going forward that prevention is key to keeping children safe, including in their online worlds and that investment is needed beyond education to help create safer futures for children across Wales.
“As we come together to celebrate 35 years of Childline – a service that is there for children around the clock – it would be remiss for Welsh Government not to act to help prevent abuse from happening in the first place. It can help protect future generations by ensuring health and social care services for children and families are well-resourced and accessible to address impact of the pandemic on children.”
Those attending the event were welcomed by Jayne Bryant MS, chair of the Children and Young People’s Committee and addressed by Julie Morgan MS, Deputy Minister for Social Services and Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales.
As well as a video message from the founder of Childline, Dame Esther Rantzen, Childline team manager in Cardiff, Louise Israel spoke about her own experiences. She joined the service as a volunteer in 2000 at a time when it was usual to hear children calling from a public phone box or whispering down the receiver because they were using the family phone in the hallway and were desperate not to be overheard.
Louise says: “Childline was ground-breaking – a safe space for children and young people to talk about things that were worrying them in the knowledge that they would be listened to and supported rather than judged.
“Mobile phones didn’t exist when Childline was founded so texts and emails weren’t an option. We’ve adapted a lot over the years to continue being there for children. We now counsel children online as well as over the phone, and we had to make changes during the pandemic too as we faced huge challenges.
“What has remained the same is the selflessness of our volunteers and the need from children for our service – Childline is needed more now than ever. Childline is volunteer-led and we are so lucky to have people from all walks of life willing to give us a few hours of their time each week. They all have a passion to support, advise and listen to children and young people who often feel that no one cares about them or what they are going through, and without them we couldn’t do what we do.”
Thirty-five years after the first counselling shift, Childline is now part of the NSPCC (in 2006) and there are 12 bases across the UK including Cardiff and Prestatyn that make sure children are listened to. In 2020/21, more than 15,000 counselling sessions were delivered to children and young people across the UK from counsellors at Childline bases in Wales.
The Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Sally Holland, says: “Childline has been a vital service for the last 35 years for children all over the UK, including Wales, and its worth has been especially clear during the pandemic.
“All children have a right to be listened to, to be kept safe and to have the support they need to recover from abuse. Everywhere I go in Wales children know about Childline and are confident it is there for them.
“I continue to work hard to ensure that our government and public services provide the joined-up, early support children need to keep them safe and protect their mental health so that they experience a No Wrong Door approach when they reach out for help, wherever they are in Wales.”
To find out more about joining the volunteer team at Childline and the comprehensive training package it includes, contact [email protected] or 01745 772 101 for the Prestatyn base, or [email protected] for the Cardiff base.
Childline is available for children and young people 24/7 on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk. Anyone concerned about a child can contact the NSPCC helpline for advice on 0808 800 5000. Adult victims of non-recent sexual abuse can also get in touch for support.