ChildLine is a free 24-hour counselling service for children and young people up to their 19th birthday in the UK provided by the NSPCC. ChildLine deals with any issue which causes distress or concern, common issues dealt with include child abuse, bullying, mental illness, parental separation or divorce, pregnancy and substance misuse.
ChildLine’s intention is to always keep calls confidential. ChildLine counsellors take action, however the situation, big or small, if they can help. Counsellors do not record calls but write down case notes of calls and sometimes counselling supervisors may also listen in to calls to make sure that they can help the best they can.
In 1986 Esther Rantzen, presenter of That’s Life!, a popular consumer TV show, suggested to the BBC that they create “Childwatch”, a programme about child abuse that was screened subsequently on 30th October 1986, the aim being to try to detect children at risk before their lives were in danger. Viewers were asked if they would take part in the survey in an edition of That’s Life!. A helpline was opened after the programme so that any child currently suffering abuse could call for help. Rantzen, together with her BBC producers Sarah Caplin and Ritchie Cogan, therefore suggested they should create a helpline specifically for children in danger or distress, to be open throughout the year, 24/7, and launch it on the programme. The project was made possible by a benefactor Ian Skipper who underwrote the charity for the first three years.
ChildLine joined the NSPCC in February 2006, and extra resources were pledged in an attempt to ensure that no child’s call goes unanswered.
ChildLine has 12 counselling centres around the UK, staffed largely by volunteers. The bases are located in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Manchester, Liverpool, Prestatyn, Birmingham, Nottingham, London, Belfast and Foyle, supported by the online only centres at Leeds and Cardiff. A restructure in 2011 saw the closure of the ChildLine bases in Exeter and Edinburgh, with Swansea relocating to Cardiff. As many as 4,500 children phone ChildLine every day, though only 2,500 of these callers can be answered due to lack of resources. Since the merger with the NSPCC the service has expanded, and depends on public generosity to pay for the children’s phone calls.
Unlike most other freephone helplines, ChildLine offers confidentiality to children unless their or someone else’s life is in immediate danger. This is seen as one of the greatest strengths of the service, as it allows children to discuss their problems “safely” in the knowledge that no intervention will take place without their consent. The tragedy of child abuse is that the majority of children suffer in silence because they have been told that if they seek help they will not be believed, or they are threatened into silence, or they fear that intervention will inevitably shatter such happiness as they have, for example, break up the family. Children who ring ChildLine to disclose abuse are often encouraged to seek help from “trusted adults”, the aim being to protect the child from harm causing as little ancillary damage as possible. ChildLine’s counsellors are trained to use role play and empathy to build children’s confidence. ChildLine offers its own training programme for volunteers who come from widely varied backgrounds, but must be over 16. Many counsellors have worked for years for the charity.
Calls to ChildLine do not appear on phone bills. Calls to ChildLine’s number are not charged by any UK mobile network. Calls are free, can be made at any time, day or night and children can ring about any problem, whether asking for themselves or because they are worried about a friend.
ChildLine raises funds through several channels, including direct donations through the NSPCC, partnerships, events such as The X Factor ChildLine Ball and through third-party fundraising organisations such as Justgiving.