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Could you be the first point of contact for a child who wants to talk?

The ISPCC is looking for volunteers for its Childline service.

Childline can be the first place that a child will come to, they may not have opened up and talked about their abuse to anybody else.

00154997 Marie Douglas taking calls at the ISPCC Childline call centre. Source: Laura Hutton via Photocall Ireland

Childline will often help children to come to that point where they will tell a teacher or a trusted adult about what’s going on in their life.

SIOBHAN HARVEY, A regional volunteer organiser for Childline, told TheJournal.ie that, there has been an increase in calls to the service in the past few years.

“Even overnight. The phone’s are non stop. It’s just one after another,” she adds.

The charity says donations have fallen by 20% since December and that it may not be able to continue its 24-hour service if the trend continues.

Volunteering is a huge part of the Irish Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) with Childline being one of the charity’s best-known services.

It receives up to 1,800 calls a day with 1 in 3 going unanswered. Speaking about volunteering for Childline, Harvey said:

We don’t expect anybody to come with any training or anything like that. We provide a training course to prepare people to work within the ISPCC.

“We do look that people will fit into our ethos, that they are child centred and not problem focused.”

Group information evenings take potential volunteers through the different services that volunteers can get involved with – such as Childline phone line and online listening services, child and parent mentoring, advocacy volunteers and fundraising volunteers.

Harvey explained how those who volunteer with ISPCC are fundamental to the charity and are greatly appreciated. However, she added that Childline is not for everyone:

People can be shocked to hear that we don’t give advice to the children, it’s a listening support and about empowering the child to make their own decisions.

Volunteering

The next information evening in Dublin about Childline’s phone service is on next Tuesday evening August 12.

The first thing to do if interested in becoming a volunteer is to register here and then attend a group interview to get more information.

Harvey explains that, “A second interview is then carried out with two staff and if they’re accepted at that stage they would submit three references and be garda vetted before being signed into the training course.”

The training consists of 15 three-hour sessions over two months.

“We look for a four-hour shift once a week with a two-year commitment.

It’s not always suited for everybody – especially when people hear that we don’t focus on the child’s problems, we are a listening service so we listen to the child. That can be hard for people who are problem solvers and want to solve everything.

The phone line is open 24 hours but volunteers don’t work after 10pm. Staff man the phone line during the night. Harvey added that:

People are here because they want to give back to the community, they want to be here to listen to the children.

“There’s also a nice social element and there’s a great support system for volunteers.”

Childline volunteer, Louise Friel, told TheJournal.ie, ”The real reward is when you’re on the call and even if it’s a difficult one – you think okay we’ve gone through the options and they’re safe now and they know they can call us and there is help here for them.

It’s very rewarding. I love coming in here. For me – taking the calls is what I love doing. Listening to the children.

“They don’t have to have a problem to phone us, we’re not a helpline – we’re a listening service so we’re here to listen to all children under 18.”

Childline Volunteers at work in the ISPCC Childline call centre in Dublin. Source: Laura Hutton via Photocall Ireland

Volunteering with Childline isn’t easy and Harvey explained how the service is confidential so they don’t know where the children are from, but that in cases where the children are in danger, the volunteers will hand over information that the child gives them.

“The minute children make contact with Childline, they are aware from the offset that if they let us know they are not safe and we have some identifying information – we have to pass it on.

If a child does ring in and they are at risk but we don’t have identifying information, we can’t pass on anything.

“That is something we stress at the training evening. It can be difficult for volunteers when they know that a child is in distress and is being abused.

“The child may give us the information we need or they may just decide to call back again and take it from there.

It’s about the child being empowered and the child making their own decisions.

Support

Friel explained how once the training course is finished, volunteers then shadow services and have supervised calls to start.

Every volunteer has a group supervisor and there are group meetings every few months.

There’s also a 24 hour on-call service and an external support service for volunteers.

Friel said, ”The support that we have is incredible. You never have to make a decision on your own.

We do get serious calls and horrendous calls of what children are going through at home, in care and even on the streets. They talk to us about what they want- we don’t push them in any way, we don’t judge them.

“We explain that nobody has a right to hurt them and that it’s not their fault.

“We never tell them what to do, we explore options with them. We always welcome them to call back so the door is always open.”

Friel explained how, “Even if there’s a group of children calling us and they are messing, there could be one child in that group who needs us so we never give out and they may then call back on their own at another time.”

Volunteer organiser, Siobhan Harvey, said that the longest volunteer is with the ISPCC for 16 years.

She also added that the charity are low on male volunteers.

There are far more women than men, we might just have two or three in a group session of 30. So we’d love to see more men apply.

For more information on becoming a volunteer visit ISPCC.ie and check out the volunteering opportunities in your area.

Read: Want to know how generous companies in your area are?

Read: Childline is at “breaking point” as donations continue to plummet>

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