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Opinion: ‘It feels as though I’m answering a call on every shift from a child talking about suicide’

ISPCC Childline volunteer Lee Daly says many of the children calling in are struggling with all the extra issues brought about by the changes of 2020.

Lee Daly

EVERYTHING HAS BEEN experienced more intensely by children and young people across Ireland this year.

Cut off from extended family members, friends and other supports, they have been at a heightened level of risk. Many have told me how they have felt anxious, confused, hurt, upset, lonely and afraid.

For some, the restrictions brought about by Covid-19 meant a time in the love and warmth of family. But for others, this year has been anything but positive.

Now, nine months on from when schools across the country were ordered to close and demand for Childline’s services surged, we are answering an average of five contacts every day from children and young people who talk with us about suicide.

Always listening

I spend four hours each week helping Childline listen to children and it feels as though I am now taking a call from a child talking about suicide on every shift.

One of those calls which I answered last week came from a young girl who felt utterly hopeless. She was living in care but felt as though nobody cared.
While her challenges began long before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the sense of isolation, fear and anxiety stirred up over recent months had brought her to a place where she felt she could not go on. She urgently needed to talk.

All children and young people need somewhere they can turn – a safe space, where they can be free to share how they are really feeling and not be judged or told what to do.

At Childline, we give of our time each week to listen. We are always there to support children and young people, no matter what might be on their mind. We are comprehensively trained and ready for whatever a child or young person might have to tell us.

Facilitating, not fixing

We empower children and young people and work to strengthen their resilience, so they can cope with any challenges that come their way in life. Yet we don’t try to ‘fix’ things.

There is no ‘fixing’, for example, for a child with terminal cancer who turns to Childline for emotional support as they are concerned about their friends who are upset and their parents who are trying their best to hide financial worries.

We don’t deny the difficulties faced by some children and young people – but we are there for them when they need somewhere to turn to explore their feelings and perhaps begin to talk about a big concern for the very first time. This can be the first step for them on a path that changes their life.

Often, children are not worried about their own welfare, but that of their loved ones. The events of the past few months brought this into clear focus.

Children and young people have picked up on the anxieties of parents who have lost jobs, or been bereaved. They don’t want to further burden those close to them with their own feelings and so call, text or chat online with Childline in confidence.

It really strikes me when, feeling their concern is unimportant, they apologise to us for having taken up our time. We are here for them all of the time, for whatever it is that is on their mind at that particular moment.

Childhood is precious

Every child deserves to be a child – especially at Christmas. Yet, as Christmas Day is one of the busiest days of the year at Childline, we are acutely aware that the joy and magic of the season do not reach every home.

As volunteers, we are expecting to answer up to 900 calls, texts and online contacts from children and young people this Christmas Day alone. They may feel as though there is nowhere else they can turn.

We could not be here without the support of the public. It really is the case that the public is there with us every time we engage with a child. They can help us to share a sense of hope with a child in their darkest hour – a sense of hope that can last a lifetime.

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We don’t always get to realise the impact that Childline can have on the life of a child or young person. We are there for them when they need us, confidentially.

For this reason, it is the most remarkable thing when a child or young person makes contact at the end of a year to thank us for having been there for them. They are thanking you, too.

Lee Daly has volunteered with Childline at the organisation’s Limerick unit for the past four years. He gives several hours of his time each week to helping Childline listen to children. When not volunteering with Childline, Lee works as a Software Engineer with Intel. He was this week named Childline’s Volunteer of the Year for 2020. Childline services can be reached at any time by calling 1800 66 66 66, sending a text to 50101 or chatting online at Childline.ie. Donate to ISPCC.ie/Christmas.

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Lee Daly

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