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VOICES

Childline volunteer I have been able to help kids in trouble the way I was helped

Jonathan Ryan will be working the Childline phones through Christmas – he is reminded of how the helpline got him through his own tough times.

THIS IS A very special Christmas for me. It’s my first Christmas volunteering with Childline’s 24-Hour Hour support line. I’ve always wanted to do this because I see Childline as an essential support for children and young people.

It was for me, anyway; when I first rang the listening support service, I was just 16 years old.

Due to a combination of circumstances, I had to look after my siblings for an extended period of time. It was difficult being a teenage carer but I felt the relief, the safety of knowing that if something ever happened, I could ring Childline and there would be someone, an adult, to talk to.

I rang Childline eight or nine times during that period and it was usually when we were hungry or I was worried about the electricity or gas meter and I didn’t know what to do.

Many children suffering

The Covid pandemic prompted me to reevaluate some parts of my life. I changed my career and now work for an addiction support service. Knowing how Childline had been such a support to me when I was young, I decided to become that listening ear for children who need support.

Christmas is a magical time for many, but for lots of children and young people, it can be one of the hardest times of the year. That’s why Childline will be available every day and night this Christmas season (as we are throughout the year).

I understand myself how crucial it is that children and young people have a place they can always turn to, where they can unburden themselves and know that they won’t be judged or told what they should do.

Instead, we reflect with the child about what is going on for them and look to help them enhance their coping skills in relation to the challenges they are facing. They can reach out to us for any reason, whether they’re struggling at school, have friendship or family worries or are concerned about their sexuality and gender identity. I have had a lot of conversations with children who are being bullied, who are lonely and who are struggling with mental health challenges.

Being heard

Last week, one of the children who rang had made lots of notes before she called so that she didn’t forget anything. She was having difficulties at school and at home. We talked through everything that was on her mind. She was so thankful to be heard and that really touched me. I was beaming all the way home.

I also had a lovely conversation with a girl who as she put it herself had a few ‘little worries’ and didn’t want to discuss them with her friends. It makes me very happy to think that there are children who know that they can contact us for any reason.

Other callers and situations are more challenging. It’s very difficult to listen to children saying they have been neglected or abused. They often don’t want to do anything about it, they just need a safe space where they can share what is going on for them and they just need someone to hear them. We used to be more connected as a society and I think that a lot of people have been forgotten behind closed doors.

The father in me wants to say that it will be okay. I don’t know if it will be, but by being there in that moment when they need you, we can help. We can’t solve what is going on, but we can be there for them. Of course, if a child asks us to get assistance for them, we will.

Training

All volunteers have undergone comprehensive training and we are equipped to deal with whatever a child or young person might tell us. We work together in the unit and we have access to assistance ourselves 24/7 if we need it.

A truly difficult call happened recently. I was speaking with a young boy who was suicidal. I relied on my training to listen to how he was feeling and what he was facing. Reassuring someone that you are there and not going anywhere can be so important.

I do feel sad at the thought of so many children and young people going through so many difficulties. Last year, Childline volunteers had over 600 conversations with children and young people needing support with their mental and emotional health. I know it will be the same this year.

I am expecting to hear from children that many find their loneliness and grief have intensified as they see they see families and others celebrating together and it’s not like that for them.

I want to remind children and young people that Childline is still there for them and that they can contact us online at childline.ie or phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout Christmas.

It’s upsetting when I’m on a call and I see that others are seeking support too, each with their own reason for reaching out. But volunteering with Childline is very rewarding and I’m happy to be helping children the way I myself was helped.

Jonathan Ryan started volunteering with Childline this year. He is based in Dublin and volunteers at the Childline unit in the city. Children and young people can contact Childline’s 24-Hour support line anytime and for any reason online at Childline.ie or by calling 1800 66 66 66. To donate, visit ispcc.ie or call 0818 50 40 50.

VOICES

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