Volunteers and staff at Childline in Northern Ireland are preparing to work over Christmas as children get in touch on issues including sexual abuse, family problems, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
The free and confidential NSPCC-run helpline is open to help children 365 days a year and demand is high across the festive period for the advice provided by its specially-trained counsellors at its 12 bases across the UK.
Across four of the main festive days last year – Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve 2016 and New Year’s Day 2017 – Childline across the UK delivered 2,490 counselling sessions, up from 2,353 on the same days the previous year.
Of these counselling sessions, at least 54 in 2016-17 were carried out with children contacting Childline from Northern Ireland. The true figures are likely to be higher with hundreds of children not disclosing their country of origin when contacting counsellors.
Volunteers at Childline’s two bases in Belfast and Foyle will be among those working over the festive period, including on Christmas Day itself.
On Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day last year volunteers from Belfast and Foyle carried out 444 counselling sessions with children from across the UK, having carried out 312 on the same days in 2014/15.
Children’s mental and emotional health was the most frequently-expressed concern faced by Childline counsellors over the festive period, followed by family relationships and suicidal feelings.
As counsellors prepare to talk to young people in need of support and advice over this year’s festive period the NSPCC is appealing to the public to help them be there for even more children and teenagers who get in touch by phone, text or online.
To ensure as many of these young people as possible are getting the help they need the NSPCC is running its Light Up Christmas for Children appeal. To support the campaign all you have to do is make a small cash donation by sending a simple text message.
A 15-year-old girl who contacted Childline over Christmas 2016 told a counsellor about the sexual abuse she had suffered.
She said: “We had family around today for Christmas dinner and my uncle came. He was being really nice and gave me a present. I gave him a hug to thank him and went upstairs.
“A little while later he came into my room and closed the door. I asked him what he wanted but he pushed me onto the bed and made me do things that I didn’t want to do. I feel so guilty and ashamed – I never want anyone to know.”
Childline founder and President Dame Esther Rantzen said:
“For most children Christmas is a time of happiness, but at Childline we know only too well there are many young people across the UK who find it the darkest and most difficult time of year. They contact Childline to tell us they are spending the holidays surrounded by violence and anger, suffering from abuse and neglect, or wrestling with mental health problems.
“The good news is that while most of the country stops for Christmas, Childline does not. Our fantastic staff and volunteers will be working around the clock – including on Christmas Day itself – helping young people, some of whom will be in desperate need of support and advice.”
Georgina McGlinchey, Service Manager at Childline’s Foyle base, who is working across the festive period, said:
“For many children they won’t have a Christmas or be able to celebrate so my goal is to help them feel that they are not alone. Christmas is as busy for us as any other time of the year and the concerns of children are the same – they are contacting us in their hundreds about mental or emotional health concerns, family relationships, suicidal thoughts, self-harm and sexual abuse.”
Georgina revealed that a lot of young people who contacted Childline, either over the phone or online, also took the time at Christmas to say thanks for the service’s help during the year.
She said: “We receive a lot of calls to Childline also from young people who thank us for supporting them all year round. Those calls are nice to take and we spend some time talking to them about their day.”
To support the NSPCC’s Christmas campaign simply text ‘NSPCC 4’ to 70744 to donate £4, or visit nspcc.org.uk. Text costs include your donation of £4 plus your standard network rate. The NSPCC will receive 100% of your donation.