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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 June, 2004, 06:53 GMT 07:53 UK
NI parents turn to advice line
Toddler in childcare
The issues concerning parents are complex
A helpline offering advice to parents in Northern Ireland has taken 6,000 calls in the past 12 months, figures have shown.

The calls to the freephone number run by the Parents Advice Centre (PAC) marked an increase of 10% on the previous year's figure.

Many of the calls were related to issues like bullying, sexual promiscuity, alcohol and drug abuse, but more and more people are seeking help with problems caused by family break-ups.

The figures were revealed as PAC members marked the organisation's 25th anniversary, by gathering for their annual general meeting in Belfast on Tuesday.

Chief Executive Pip Jaffa said there had been a change in the types of calls received since the organisation's inception, reflecting a changing society.

More than half of the calls we took at all our branches last year were to do with family relationships and separation issues
Pip Jaffa

"In the 1970s, we would have had few queries about drug abuse: today it's a very different picture," she said.

"The problems dealt with in the early days seemed to have fewer complicating factors.

"Now we have the added pressures of the increasing numbers of children affected by separation and step-family issues.

"In fact, more than half of the calls we took at all our branches last year were to do with family relationships and separation issues."

Supporting parents

In 1979, the PAC was staffed by a handful of people, but today there are about 40 staff and 100 trained volunteers based in four branches across Northern Ireland.

Ms Jaffa said their input was crucial.

She said: "The service couldn't exist without the efforts of our volunteers. Indeed, we reckon that they commit something like 20,000 hours to us every year.

"We simply couldn't afford to pay for their time."

The PAC aims to help individuals cope with family difficulties by providing a listening ear; identifying options and possibilities, supporting parents and young people in finding their own solutions to problems.

The organisation has branches in Belfast, Ballymena, Dungannon and Derry. It operates a free telephone helpline service: 0808 8010 722.

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