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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 October 2006, 11:22 GMT
No kidding
Most calls to ChildLine are about bullying

By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

ChildLine is 20 years old this week. It is credited with helping push child welfare high up the political agenda, but still it is receiving more calls than ever before.

It might be celebrating its 20th anniversary but there are some other numbers that are just as significant in ChildLine's history.

Three, the number of years it took one ChildLine counsellor to persuade a girl to tell someone she was being sexually abused. Or 50, the number of calls another had to make to one boy before he told someone about problems that left him feeling suicidal.

More than 4,500 children call daily
It takes on average £38 to counsel a child
Has over 1,380 volunteers
The annual cost of one volunteer counsellor is £3,762
Three times as many calls from girls than boys

ChildLine is now part and parcel of everyday life. For a small charity it has made a huge impact say childcare experts. It is hard to imagine what children in crisis did before it existed. Who did they speak to?

"Survivors of abuse have told me that before ChildLine, if they told anyone about what was happening to them it was usually another child - a close friend," says its founder Esther Rantzen.

"But that just left two children who didn't know what to do. Youngsters were locked in this prison of abuse. I have spoken to people who have told me they would be dead if it wasn't for ChildLine, if they hadn't had our help they would have killed themselves."


For years child abuse predominantly focused on stranger danger. Sexual, physical and emotional abuse within the family, or by someone known to the family, was rarely talked about.

"If a stranger was horrible to a child, the thing to do was run home and tell their mum or dad," says Rantzen. "But what if their parents were the ones hurting them, who did they tell then?"

Esther Rantzen
Rantzen founded ChildLine in 1986

The fact the charity is so firmly part of the fabric of everyday life is testament to its hard work, which involves much more than the helpline. Its campaigning work has been credited with placing child welfare at the forefront of the political agenda.

It lobbied for a minister for children and one was appointed. It campaigned for children's commissioner and one was appointed. Its list of achievements is long.

"It was a radical departure in giving children the tools to speak out," says childcare expert Heather Welford. "It was the first dedicated helpline for children and marketed at them. It has helped push child issues up the agenda and kept them high profile. For a small charity it punches way above its weight."

But it is also a victim of its own success. The more children it reaches, the bigger its workload gets and it now receives more calls than ever. The bigger the job gets the harder it is to raise the funds to keep it going.


Over 4,500 children try to get through to ChildLine every day, but it only has enough staff to answer around 2,500 of those call. Rarely is it as simple as one telephone, hardly ever in fact. As well as the calls, it counsels children across the country by letter every week.

Last year it faced financial crisis after high-profile appeals for overseas disasters, like the Tsunami, resulted in a massive drop in donations.

"When we launched 20 years ago we were charitable flavour of the month, I had to do 19 live interviews in one day," says Rantzen.

Bullying: 18%
Family tension: 13%
Physical abuse: 11%
Concern for others: 8%
Facts of life: 8%
Sexual abuse: 7%
Pregnancy: 5%
Health: 4%
"But when I launched our emergency funding appeal last year it was not carried on a single prime time news programme. That's because the first pictures of the famine in Niger were coming through, there were images of starving babies.

"I understand why people want to donate money when they see such images, but we can't show pictures of the children we help. I can't show you the young boy who rang up last week and told a counsellor that he is locked in a shed by his parents every night. This makes it harder for niche charities like ChildLine to get people's attention."

Rantzen decided to set up ChildLine after reading a news story about the terrible death of a toddler. She knew there must be a better way of detecting children who are vulnerable or being abused.


"There's so much pain in life that you can't avoid, but I don't think there's any cause more crucial than protecting children from the avoidable pain," says Rantzen. "That belief drove me on even though it was emotionally, physically and financially difficult setting up ChildLine."

She was able to do a special feature on child welfare through the hugely-popular That's Life programme she fronted at the time. Part of that involved setting up a temporary helpline, it was completely jammed for the 48 hours it was up and running.

ChildLine logo
Calling ChildLine is free
It convinced her that a permanent helpline was needed. ChildLine's work over those 20 years means it is now regarded as a crucial part of the child protection network. It is something Rantzen is very proud of.

But while child welfare has definitely been pushed right up the political agenda does that mean children's lives are easier than they were 20 years ago?

"It's a mixed picture," she says. "But I definitely think children are now lonelier than ever before as the extended family doesn't really exist anymore."

Funding issues have also been eased by ChildLine's merger with the NSPCC. This has provided a crucial lifeline, but it doesn't change the fact that the charity still relies on donations for 92% of its budget.

As part of its 20th anniversary celebrations it has launched a campaign to raise £20m. The aim is to increase the proportion of children's calls answered from 57% to 80% and double the number of volunteer counsellors.

"When children cannot get through, they feel even more alone and without hope," says Rantzen. "Our dream is to answer all the children the first time they ring."

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I have recently become a volunteer counsellor with my local ChildLine base, and I am continually amazed at what they achieve on a daily basis. The more people I speak to and the more shifts I attend the more I get an insight into just how hard everybody works, and just how dedicated my colleagues are to children and young people. I don't think the general public is necessarily aware of how difficult it can be to run a charity like ChildLine on a day to day basis, but this article is a step on the way to helping people understand. I hope it inspires people to support a charity that is working so hard, and so close to home.
Sarah Stayt, Leeds, West Yorkshire

Isn't Childline providing a service which should be paid for out of public funds? The damage caused to many people during childhood lives with them for years and often causes knock-on effects in the next generation. We just don't pay enough attention to emotional and mental welfare.
Susan, London, UK

Childine has been a godsend to me, it has saved my life on a number of times after sexual and physical abuse has driven me to suicide attempts. but i have often had to redial adn wait for ages before i could get through to a counsellor. Thankyou to all childline counsellors you really have saved my life. The government should really fund more projects like this because children are dying out there because of not being able to talk to someone.
Anon, Bham

"When children cannot get through, they feel even more alone and without hope," I think what they feel is desperate, and cheated. It takes considerable courage to make the first call, and if that call is not answered, I can imagine many not being able to call again. I was sexually abused by my father throughout my childhood, and I know how difficult it is to work through the morass of emotions, of guilt, to finally find the courage to bring it into the open. I think it's absolutely essential that ALL calls are answered, otherwise Childline is failing in its duty. Even the projected 80% figure for answered calls is far from satisfactory. I wish the charity every success in its campaign and hope all reading this will donate at least something.
Sue, Norfolk, UK

I really support organizations such as these. I never managed to get through to Childline in my time of need when I little and when I remember back to standing in that phone box pressing redial over and over again, I felt abandoned and terrified. Then it occurred to me to try and call the NSPCC helpline and the lady who took the time to talk to me saved my life. I wish I could recall her name or even run into her to say thank you after so many years but she was a Godsend. But it's for reasons such as these that organizations like Childline need more funding and support so that no call goes un-answered.
Yazmin, London

I applaud Esther on the great success of ChildLine. Having worked with children for many years I am well aware of their personal worries and fears, which need a channel of expression. Although I am a pensioner I am happy to be a regular donor to the cause and would encourage everyone to give - even the "widow's mite" is appreciated.
Patricia Shepherd, Croydon

It is wonderful that Childline exist and can make a positive difference to the number of children that they are in contact with. I think Britain has a negative attitude to children in general and it will take many more years to break it down and re-educate people. I know a number of people who thin because they had poor relationships with their parents it's o.k to continue that cycle of behaviour as in their opinion 'it did me no harm' attitude prevails! I realise every person's situation is different. I think this support that Childline offers should remain in the voluntary sector but with support from central government. In reality they are doing the job of social services. I say it should remain in the voluntary sector as all too often when services are absorbed into central gov they fall apart in their effectiveness.
Anna F, Birmingham

I remember watching "Thats Life" when Childline was first set up. I was 12 years old and remember realising just what a difference a service like that could make. There are so many children who feel isolated and at fault when abused by those who are supposed to protect them. Being able to talk to someone you know is only there to help you can sometimes make all the difference in the world. It can give you the confidence to change what is happening to you, just by giving you the support to confide in someone. I believe that this is such a worthwhile charity and have continued to support it over the past 20 years. I hope it long continues to receive the donations it so rightly deserves in order to give all children the right to their childhood.
SMB, London

I think the work childline does is crucial in the detection and prevention of child abuse. Child line should be funded by central government, clearly if the official agencies the Government fund cannot reach out to so many vulnerable children a service such as childline should be given all the support it needs. A friend of mine works in a local school and as is the nature of her work comes into contact with children who are being abused or negelected at home. She has told me of cases where it has taken up to a year for the official bodies to take any action when teachers have informed them of children they suspect are being abused. If children are at the top of the political agenda why are so many left to suffer for so long? As a society we all have a duty to protect and support any child who has or is being abused or neglected in their own home. It is a pity so few of us take this responsibility seriously.
Nyree Treece, Derby

Childline started around the time of my 18th birthday. My abuse was neglect. My parents locked me in my room when I wasn't at school or working for them. When a black family moved in next door they took to tying me to the bed so I couldn't talk to them through the window (my parents are racist). My parents bought a minivan with a seperate cab so they didn't have to speak to me when they took me too and from school. I wasn't allowed outside the house apart from going to school. This happened from when I was about 8 until 18 when I left to go to college. I spoke to social services but they didn't do anything. I have since learnt that my teachers at school knew about it but they didn't do anything. I was unlucky with the timing of childline but it is crucial that children going through similar circumstances today have somewhere to turn too. Especially with neglect. I'm sure people still think it is nothing compared to sexual or physical abuse but it is horrible growing up knowing your family really don't care about you.
Anon, Bolton

Isnt it about time that the Government funded important childrens services like this? How can anyone accept that nearlly half (43%) of Children who make the difficult decision to contact Childline receive no help as they cant get through?
HR, Devon

I think it is about time that the charities have a bigger share of the lottery by the punter being able to choose which charity it goes to up front. I dont always agree with the receiptents of lottery money. However I would be really happy to donate my weekly pound to child line and even happier if the Government allowed it to be increased by gift aid.
Claire Morgan, Hampshire

I wish Childline had existed in the 1960s and 1970s when I was a child and being abused at home by my parents and brother. Somehow I survived but still live with the emotional scars. Being able to talk to someone then would have made a huge difference to me. Esther Rantzen should be made a Dame for setting up Childline.
Anon, UK

Controversial I know, but twenty years ago my own childhood was marred with physcial and sexual abuses. The difference for me was that nobody told me I was a victim, and nobody told me to be traumatised, so I wasn't. It worked fine for me, but I doubt Esther will ever agree. Which is a shame as I shudder to think how many children are damaged by adults telling them to be traumatised just so the adult can 'help' them through it and feel better in themself for doing so. It's sickening.
Nic, Nottingham

I do hate this comment of "the extended family doesn't exist anymore". Yes it does, but in different ways. We are tyring to protect these children from their families who abuse them but it doesn't mean to say that these children cannot have new families who will love and cherish them. Also, who is say that a childminder is not part of the extended family. My chldminder loves my child. She kisses, cuddles and protects my child just as her extended family do(Grandparent, Aunts and Uncles and surrogate Aunt and Uncles who are my closest friends). This notion of "extended family" being actual blood family is old fashioned.
Nadine Norton, Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Keep up the good work, I was once one that needed help. This service was not available. I was one of the lucky ones I guess and now, looking back, could not begin to express my gratitude to some of the people who dedicated their lives to helping me start mine.
Justin Watts , Farnborough

As a mum of a toddler, this cause is close to my heart as every case of child cruelty that I hear about makes me want to hug my daughter even tighter. And I know that we don't hear even 1% of what goes on behind closed doors. So on Sunday, a colleague and I both did a tandem parachute jump for Childline, raising over £1,500 between us - enough to answer up to 500 more calls. This charity deserves our support as it is so close to home.
Sarah Wolf, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, UK

This story should be kept in the spotlight all the time it is that important, Child line along with the NSPCC are doing a great job and need everyone¿s continuous support.
Anthony Cooke, Isle of Man

In response to Nic's comments about not being traumatised by abuse, I think she/he may be one of the lucky ones. All throughout my abuse, which was so secret no one even knew to tell me I was traumatised, I felt alone and desperate. Growing up I suffered all sorts of confidence issues, even though the abuse had long since been put to the back of my mind. Whilst couselling should always be child centered, dealing with problems at a young age can lead to a happier adulthood. Cynicism should not be directed at people who save lives.
Undisclosed, Edinburgh

When Childline began I remember watching That's Life and realising for the first time that my childhood was wrong. Sexual abuse was not talked about nor was their anyone I could turn to for help. While I didn't use the Childline services, I would not be where I am today: a mother, happily married, educated to post graduate level, with a sucessful career without the hard work of Childline in forcing the abuse of children onto the polical and social adgenda. Thank you to everyone for their commitment as I would not have been able to take the many steps to reclaim my life. The abuse of children is a crime, but it is a bigger crime if we do not listen.
Anon, North East

Nic from Nottingham: You cannot generalise from a single case and assumes it applies to all people. There are plenty of people who were abused one way or another around 20 years ago like you (or longer) and still suffer the effects today. They had nobody to talk to and so were not told they were victims. We all react differently to different situations. However, I take my hat off to you in the fact you have come through it.
Jeff, Birmingham

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