'Many are in situations where they feel trapped': Childline volunteer speaks of impact of pandemic on children

'Many are in situations where they feel trapped': Childline volunteer speaks of impact of pandemic on children

Megan Sarl said restrictions have meant that some children have been exposed to witnessing domestic abuse for the first time. Stock picture. Pic: iStock

A CHILDLINE volunteer has spoken about the impact of the pandemic on children in Cork and around the country.

Megan Sarl said restrictions have meant that some children have been exposed to witnessing domestic abuse for the first time.

“There have been a lot of ‘firsts’ for the children who call us. Many of these firsts have been terrifying,” she said.

“With the pubs closed kids are seeing their parents drinking at home and are witnessing domestic abuse first hand. Before that, they might have seen a parent with a bruise but failed to connect the two.”

Ms Sarl described the trauma of hearing domestic abuse during a phone call.

“Hearing a scream in the background when you’re taking a call from a child or the slam of a door never gets easier,” she said. “These are the harder calls because you know there is something going on in the house at that moment. Sometimes a child will call us from under a sheet or a wardrobe because they desperately need a place to hide. If kids want the help we will give it to them and contact gardaí. However, much of the time they are terrified that their families will be split up.”

Calls from children in emergency accommodation 

Ms Sarl said she has also received a number of calls from children in emergency accommodation.

She said one child reached out to the helpline from the bathroom of the hotel room they were living in after being exposed to drug use.

“I remember that child telling me they were calling from the bathroom,” said Ms Sarl of one particularly disturbing call. “This child was very concerned about their mother’s partner, who had been keeping drugs in the room.

“They rang out of concern for a younger sibling. They were afraid that the sibling might find the drugs and be harmed.

“They were also worried about harm coming to them while the mother’s partner was under the influence.”

Summer can be hard

She said the summer holidays can be a difficult time for some children.

“The rest of the year, a child can remind themselves that they just need to make it through the night. The next morning they will have school or even go to an after-school club that allows them to escape that reality for a while.

“Many children are in situations where they feel very trapped.”

She said the first thing they normally do on a call is remind the child of their bravery.

“We might be the first person who has told them that they have the right to be happy. These are the things that children are supposed to be told. We tell them that they are brave.

“However, many of the kids we speak to are in horrible situations where praise is a foreign language.”

She said that, for many kids, Childline is their only contact outside of a parent.

The ISPCC provides a range of services, including Childline, to children, young people, and families.

Children can contact Childline at any time by phoning 1800 66 66 66, texting to 50101, or chatting online at Childline.ie.

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