An organisation, which provides a 24 hour listening service for young people up to the age of 18, is unable to answer one in three calls because it does not have enough funds to train additional volunteers.
Childline Galway responded to 33,731 calls and 1,684 web and text contacts in 2014 from children throughout Ireland who were in need of help and support.
Ten children who identified themselves were referred for help, five to social workers and the remainder to the Gardaí. Childline is a confidential service and calls or contacts cannot be traced. Referrals only take place if children give identifying information and seek assistance.
Minister for Children, Dr James Reilly, paid a private visit to the Galway centre, the second largest of Ireland’s eight Childline units, on Monday. It deals with about 800 contacts a week, according to Carmen Taheny, a Galway based corporate fundraising executive with the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
“We have 10 answering units in the country, the calls we answer in Galway come from all over Ireland. We have about 800 contacts a week, by telephone, web and text. In January the Galway unit answered 1,873 calls and responded to 90 web and text contacts. The busiest shifts are from 4pm to 10pm. Weekends are very busy as is Christmas Day. We are very busy at the moment as children are on holidays.”
Bullying, physical and sexual abuse, suicidal feelings, eating disorders, neglect, alcohol abuse in the home, and concerns about their sexuality are some of the issues that children raise in their contacts with Childline.
“One case involves a little girl who rings us before she is abused at home and then she telephones again afterwards and she sobs and sobs. She rings us on a regular basis. Some children do come forward and identify themselves but that might be after using the service for years. Sadly lots of children think abuse is normal. But greater awareness now means more realise that it isn’t.”
Some children call the service because they are feeling lonely, are worried about their parents’ financial situation, or are home alone and feel frightened. Others are hungry because there is no food in the house and they are on their own or their parents are in bed. More ring to say Santa did not bring them what they wanted while still more are thinking of ending it all. Changes in their personal circumstances due to the recession is another reason why they call Childline.
“The effects of the recession were very noticeable for us,” says Carmen Taheny. “We tended to be very busy on Saturday mornings. Children who would have been used to having horse riding and swimming classes were calling us. Others who would always have gone on a school tour now found their parents could not afford the €20 fee.”
One little girl called the service on Christmas morning to say she had got lots of presents from Santa but there was no-one with her to share the joy of opening them. She said she was on her own because her parents were in bed. She asked the Childline volunteer to stay on the line as she opened each gift.
Some children contact the charity to say they feel lonely. One child living in a rural area texted the service while on the bus returning home from school. Others ring to say thanks for being there for them.
Ms Taheny says the texting and web service allow children to make contact without their family knowing.
“They can be doing it in the sitting room or under the bedclothes at night. Some talk about thinking of taking their own lives. We are a listening service, we are there to allow children to vent their feelings. All we can do is direct them, tell them the services that are available. Or we try and see if they are close to someone, for example an aunt, in whom they could confide.”
Childline Galway has 70 volunteers on its books 45 of whom are “active volunteers”. (Some of the overall group are students who are studying for exams and are not available or are people who are unable to commit to the service at the time ). A volunteer training programme is currently under way. A new programme will take place during the summer. Those interested can leave their contact details with the service. Volunteers range from students to retired people. They need to be able to commit to a four hour shift a week for a period of two years.
While the demand for the service increases substantially each year a lack of resources is preventing the charity from reaching out to everyone who calls, according to Ms Taheny. It costs €3.5m a year to run the Childline service which is in its 27th year. It receives 20 per cent of its finance from the Government but has to fundraise to raise the rest. Donations dropped by 10 per cent due to recent charity scandals.
“We receive 1,800 contacts a day nationally but we are missing 800 voices because we do not have the resources to train more volunteers.”
Anyone interested in forwarding a donation to Childline or organising a fundraiser for the charity should contact Carmen Taheny at (091 ) 532422 or email [email protected] Children can contact Childline by telephoning 1800 66 66 66 or text Talk to 50101. The service is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.