‘WE are the only 24 hour listening service for children — we are there when school closes, when a social worker goes home, we are there on Christmas Day, at Easter, on Bank Holidays…’
So says Megan Sarl, aged 26, a youth worker from Cork city, living in Cobh, who has been volunteering with Childline for the past eight years.
Megan is among a cohort of volunteers giving four hours of their week, every week, to answer calls and texts and online messages, at the Cork volunteer centre, from children all over Ireland.
Megan said: “I love it, I very much enjoy it. People find it funny for me to say that I love volunteering in a child listening centre, given the type of calls we get…
“We get an awful lot of calls about bullying, online bullying, people with mental health issues, kids in foster care, or those finding it hard to deal with their parents’ alcoholism, or children struggling with bereavement.
“It can also be calls just about ordinary life, things that happen in school, or homework, or their friends, a pet could have passed away.”
Callers range in age generally from nine to 17 — the older kids generally talk about mental health issues, exams issues, or suicide — they may have thoughts themselves, or others. The younger kids talk mostly about abuse/neglect.
Since Covid, Megan said they have noticed a massive rise in the number of contacts — particularly online.
The service experienced an immediate surge in contacts when schools closed in March. Cut off from extended family members, friends and other supports, they needed Childline more than ever.
Childline answered over 72,000 online contacts, calls and texts from children and young people across Ireland over the remainder of the primary school term (from the week in which schools closed in March, to June 28 — the day before many aspects of Irish life reopened).
Many children and young people reached out to Childline online — they may have felt as though they didn’t wish to have their conversation overheard at home.
The Childline.ie website noted an increase in users of more than 100% during this period.
Children and young people who have made contact with Childline this year have told the charity about how they experienced issues ranging from abuse and violence, to mental health difficulties, to loneliness and anxiety in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.
For some children, the period of peak Covid-19 restrictions were not a time spent in the love and warmth of family —but a time they were at home with their tormentor.
Any child or young person up to the age of 18 in Ireland can contact Childline at any time, to chat about any issue that may be on their mind — there is no topic too big or small.
Childline receives an average of up to 1,000 contacts every day from children and young people across Ireland.
Childline is free to contact, confidential and non-judgemental.
Volunteers at Childline units in Cork and across the country listen to children, believe them, support and empower them. They work to strengthen resilience in the children and young people who make contact, to help them cope with challenges which come their way.
Megan explains what they do: “We are a listening service, we empower the child’s voice to be heard.
“They can express themselves how they wish, they can cry, they can rant, they can scream, they can talk whatever way.
“We listen in a very child-focused way… a non judgmental way, confidentially.”
Like every charity, Childline’s fund-raising activities have been hit by Covid. The Childline service costs €3.5 million to run every year and relies on public donations for a massive 90% of this funding.
A spokeswoman said: “We have traditionally received great support from people across Cork city and county this has helped to keep Childline open to every child and young person in Ireland 24 hours a day, every day.
“We are calling on ladies across Cork to consider registering to take part in this year’s Echo Virtual Mini Marathon and helping to raise vital funds for Childline, so that every child and young person in Cork and across the country always has somewhere they can turn.”
See ispcc.ie/Echo-Virtual-Mini-Marathon on how to sign up.