As the festive period draws in, the NSPCC is highlighting the vital role its Childline service will play this December as its volunteer counsellors get ready to answer calls from children at Christmas.
Childline is staffed by 1,200 trained volunteer counsellors who give up their time to provide a vital listening ear for children. The Childline service is here for children every day and this Christmas Day counsellors will head to bases across the UK so that children have somewhere to turn.
Childline Volunteer Counsellor, Chris Graham, 68, who lives in Cardiff, first heard of Childline when she was working as a Speech & Language Therapist supporting children in mainstream schools. The NSPCC’s Schools Service volunteers delivered a Speak Out Stay Safe assembly at the primary school she was working at and had taken along their mascot, Buddy, to meet the children. Chris volunteered for the NSPCC’s Schools Service for two years.
After retiring and helping with the childcare of her two grandsons, Chris was ready for a new challenge and currently volunteers on the Monday evening shift with a team of up to 10 others.
She says: “I was keen to keep active and signed up and trained to volunteer as a Childline counsellor at the online Cardiff Base. I have been doing this now for about seven years and recently reached 1,500 hours of counselling on shift to the young people.
“It is such a privilege to be able to talk to the young people often as young as age 10, who may have not been able to talk to anyone else previously.
“The Cardiff Base is an online centre with 1-2-1 live chats or responding to emails sent within the past 24 hours. Online communication is so familiar to young people and is a favoured way to contact us.
“During Covid, there seems to have been an increase for children with high-risk calls including suicide and self-harm. It has been such a strange isolating time for many, and some children come through regularly to chat. Childline maybe their lifeline.
“One counselling session that sticks with me was with a boy who had been told his dad, who was on a Covid ward, was going to die and he hadn’t been able to see him.
“The Childline team in Cardiff is now like a second family to me. The supervisors ensure that you care for yourself with important debrief sessions, so you don’t go away with any feelings that you find hard to cope with after some of the calls.
“In addition to my weekly session, I also help a supervisor with the recruitment of new volunteers by being on the panel at interviews and share what it is like as a volunteer at Cardiff base. I’m also part of the committee who help organise great social events such as the Family Christmas Party with Santa for all the volunteers and their families.
“If you are considering becoming a Childline volunteer it can be challenging and emotional, but it’s such a vital place for young people to share their worries in confidence. You learn a lot about yourself, and the skills learnt can also be so helpful for your life outside.
“I am so lucky to have such a rewarding life with Childline as a big focus. In addition, my week is busy with the grandsons, Cub Scout Leader Assistant, and an allotment. We’re not self-sufficient on produce quite yet.”
Over the next two weeks Childline Volunteer Counsellors are available for interview across the four nations.
Hollie Evans who called Childline in her darkest hour said:
“When I was unwell Christmas was stressful. One year I was in hospital, and barely even saw my family. I think the feeling of isolation is worse at Christmas, because we are very much fed the idea that Christmas is a time to be together. It feels like the whole world is carrying on without you. You see adverts of families gathered round Christmas tables and people dancing at parties on New Year’s Eve, and when your Christmas doesn’t look like that it feels devastating.
“It’s a lonely feeling when people can’t see you for who you really are. To everyone else in my life I was the girl who was ill, but to Childline I could just be Hollie.”
The NSPCC has revealed that December 2020 saw Childline deliver a record number of counselling
sessions about loneliness for a single month*
As the charity highlights how challenging the Christmas period can be for children who are cut off from school and their usual support networks, it can reveal:
Between April and October 2021, Childline delivered 3,845 counselling sessions where a child talked about difficulty accessing mental health services, this is more than double the number of counselling sessions during the same period last year
Childline delivered 41,216 counselling sessions about mental and emotional health between April and October this year
Counselling sessions peaked in August and September and were the highest on record for these months
Anxiety and stress, low mood and depression continue to be the top concerns children raise when they talk to Childline about their mental health.
Last year, Childline delivered just over 6,000 counselling sessions during the Christmas period. The top concerns were mental and emotional health (2,239), suicidal thoughts and feelings (759), family relationships (626) and self-harm (397)
Childline delivered over 400 counselling sessions about abuse over Christmas last year
Wendy Robinson, Childline Service Head said:
“The pandemic continues to present a number of challenges to children and young people’s lives. Over the past 7 months, as schools re-opened in March, changes to exams were announced and the COVID jab was rolled out to children, our Childline counsellors delivered 41,216 counselling sessions about mental and emotional health. This change and uncertainty has impacted children’s mental health and has had a knock-on-effect on their access to help.
“We know that the festive season will bring its own unique challenges for some children. Not being at school and having access to the usual support networks can be very isolating, particularly if children are struggling with their mental health or are in homes that are not safe. We want all children and young people to know we are here for them every day. This Christmas Childline counsellors will be there to listen, no matter how big or small their reason for contacting us is.”
Advice from NSPCC and Childline For adults
1.We’d advise you to encourage them to talk about how they are feeling to a trusted adult. This could be a parent, carer, sibling over the age of 18 or Childline. Sharing their feelings can help things feel less overwhelming and it will mean that they have someone in their life who can support them with this during the Christmas period and beyond.
2.If they are struggling to say their thoughts out loud, you could suggest that they do some art or journaling. You could encourage them to look at the Childline website where they can find lots of creative tools such as the Artbox which can they use to help communicate their feelings.
3.You can encourage them to do one positive thing a day which helps lift their mood. This could be going for a walk, listening to music or messaging a friend.
4.Suggest that they connect with other young people who understand how they are feeling. You can signpost them to Childline’s message boards which are a safe moderated space where young people can do this. Getting support from their peers will help a young person feel connected and less alone in their experiences.
5.Encourage them to take some time away from social media if it’s making them feel bad about things. We know that children can often compare themselves to other people when they are on social media, which can add to the feeling of loneliness. Having a break from social media can be a great way to focus on themselves and what will make them happy, rather than on what other people are up to.
Children can also visit Childline’s Calm Zone which been a great source of support for children and young people during the pandemic.
NSPCC Christmas Appeal
In response to concerns about children this Christmas, the NSPCC has launched its ‘Here for Children’ TV Christmas Appeal. The advert, which launched earlier this month, sees Childline counsellors taking calls at Christmas from children struggling with loneliness and isolation, suicidal thoughts and feelings and physical abuse.
The NSPCC is reaching out to the public to support its Here for Children Appeal and make a donation, so Childline counsellors can answer a child’s call for help this Christmas.
If adults are worried about children they can get advice from NSPCC practitioners on 0808 800 5000 or email@example.com.