Ellen Desmond speaks with Childline volunteer Megan Sarl. Megan is one of the dedicated volunteers ready to be on the other end of the phone for a child in need.
For every euro it cost to run Childline in 2013, 5% came from government funding and 95% came from public donations. Ireland leans incredibly hard on its charities; this country would simply not function without the contribution that non-profitable organisations give to Irish life.
It’s often easy to forget that these charities need society as much as society needs them.
Childline came into a flurry of national media attention in the latter half of 2014, when it became apparent that the charity was in urgent need of more funding. According to Childline volunteer Megan, the worst of the emergency is over.
“We had a very tough couple of months here at the ISPCC because we were going into Christmas and the New Year being very unsure if Childline would be able to remain open 24 hours a day in January, but the general public of Ireland have been fantastic. As a result of the Save Childline Emergency Appeal I am very happy to say that Childline will not be closing its night time service within in the next two years.”
However, just because the appeal is at an end it doesn’t mean the fight to keep funds coming in will stop for Childline. Like any charity, it’s a day in and day out battle to keep things ticking over.
“We still are not fully answering all the calls with get and this is where the support of the public comes in. We are hugely grateful to the people in Ireland who have supported us over the last 26 years and we are very much looking forward to that continuing for the next 26.”
Megan’s voluntary role as a Childline volunteer sees her placed right in the action of making a difference. As a volunteer she is there to pick up a phone and talk through things with a child in need.
In 2013 80,000 hours of free work was completed by volunteers like Megan; to ensure there was someone there to listen when a call comes through. The average number of hours per volunteer comes in at around 141 a year.
“Childline has a very strong commitment to children and our motto is ‘always here for children.’ Childline is the only 24 hour service in Ireland that is there for young people all the time. We are here at Easter, New Year’s Day and even Christmas Day. Christmas Day 2014 we received 1,200 telephone calls, texts and messages from children. Childline facilitates the high number of calls because we have such dedicated volunteers who give up a couple of hours during the holidays and come into an ISPCC office and listen to children who are in need of someone to listen to them; this really is the only reason (how the calls are answered). I myself have covered Christmas night for the last 3 years and I have truly enjoyed volunteering on Christmas evening and talking to young people about how they are feeling on a day that can be very lonely for many children out there.”
Answering a phone to hear a child in a bad situation may sound terrifying to many of us, but Megan says being a Childline volunteer is a very worthwhile experience which she wholeheartedly recommends to anyone with an interest in protecting children and their rights.
“The impact that Childline has on me personally is really huge. I find it quite hard to put into words how much Childline and the ISPCC mean to me. It is extremely rewarding and the fact that I get to make a difference to a child’s life no matter how small is a very rewarding thing. I would go as far as saying that being involved in Childline has changed my life in a very positive way. I get to work with young people who can be very vulnerable and when a child lets a Childline facilitator into their life, even if it is just to say they had an okay day at school, I feel this is a huge step for a child who may not have someone at home to talk to. I love that I get to be that person to ask how their day is and if they did anything nice in school.”
There are an unfortunate number of issues presented to children in the 21st century and many of them are difficult to deal with, especially if they don’t have the support they need from someone in their life. Megan highlighted bullying and mental health as two of the most frequent problems she hears Irish children speak about.
“Bullying is a huge issue for children today in Ireland, be it on social media, in school or at home. Bullying can affect young people in huge ways, sometimes at home a child may not feel as if they have a trusted adult in their life they can talk to about what is going on and that is where Childline is there to talk to the child about how they are feeling and explain that no one has the right to call them names, or make them feel sad or lonely. Also mental health is a huge aspect of our calls and this is a very prominent issue for young people in Ireland today. Mental health is a word that covers an umbrella of words and feelings. Young people have talked to Childline about how lonely they feel, some people feel quite depressed, anxious and suicidal.”
Childline is important for young people because sometimes there isn’t someone in their life who they feel like they can talk to and that is what Childline does. Despite the large amount of time and effort put in by Megan and those like her, in one year there can be up to 220,551 unanswered calls due to a lack of funding. Facing into mid-February, Christmas is now a thing of the past and with it a lot of the giving nature the media likes to associate with the holidays. But Childline is there to answer calls every single day – it’s an ongoing effort – and it’s not just for Christmas.
The service has 60 very active volunteers at present in the Cork unit but is always looking for more people to join the team. Childline volunteers are fully trained before they start talking calls. “The training is just incredible,” says Megan, “you get trained to be the best listener a person can be!”
If you would like to volunteer with Childline in Cork please contact Ann-Marie Spillane on 021-4509588 or Ann-Marie.Spillane@ispcc.ie. Information evening will be held in the coming weeks and the next Childline training course is due to start at the beginning of March. Please visit https://www.ispcc.ie/shield for information on ISPCC Shield Anti-Bullying Month from March 1st to 31st.