CHILDLINE – How was your day?

Childline started in June 2006, spearheaded by an NSPCC social worker who relocated to Gibraltar, and is comprised of a board of trustees responsible for overall management, duty managers who man phone lines at night, service coordinators, and volunteers who generously offer their time pro bono to help our little community with big issues. As a representative of the Child Protection Committee (CPC) both on an executive and operational level, and as a member of the National Appropriate Adult Network (NAAN), another lesser-known service offered by Childline is the ‘Appropriate Adult’ scheme. Appropriate Adults achieve a fairer justice system by safeguarding the welfare and rights of children detained or interviewed by the RGP. Jo explains: “It’s something that evolved – a lot of juveniles who are detained are from deprived backgrounds, similar to the children who call our helpline. It’s another way to help support them as it’s a legal requirement to have adult present when questioned. 365 days a year 24 hours a day, specially trained volunteers are available to accompany these juveniles if a parent or custodian is either unwilling or unable to.”

As well as the above, Childline have conducted preventative educational strategies, working closely with local schools and youth groups as well as parents and carers to raise awareness on how to deal with issues young people in Gibraltar may be experiencing. This form of early intervention is designed to give people the understanding and skills they need in order to deal with issues when they arise before they escalate into something more serious.

To date, Childline has helped over 6000 people in Gibraltar, predominantly though their helpline service which is operational from 17:00-21:00 every evening. For those who would appreciate that extra layer of anonymity, they also offer a live chat box during these hours via their website (childline.gi). Annie reveals: “Due to our working hours, we’re currently only answering around 40% of calls. We are now in discussions to divert to the NSPCC outside our helpline hours so as to offer a 24/7 service.”

The types of calls received have changed over the years. Initially, they were predominantly about different types of abuse (sexual, physical, emotional and neglect) whereas now, one in 3 calls is related to mental health, be it anxiety, depression, or stress. As Jo reveals, “stress levels are rising, particularly for girls aged 13 to 16; the most common Childline service users. A lot of this can be attributed to social media. Body issues are affecting girls more and more down to the doctored images they see on platforms such as Instagram.” Nodding in agreement, Annie adds: “We see a lot of cyberbullying (‘trolling’). There’s no escape from the bombardment of information. Young people’s use of jargon such as ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) is reducing the effect these words have on children – it negates the seriousness behind it.

“You wouldn’t send your child out into traffic without giving rules like ‘stop’ and ‘look’ and so on, yet they’re often left alone to navigate the internet. In some cases, parents or guardians don’t understand technology as well as kids.” This is something Childline aim to tackle by promoting ‘Safer Internet Day’ which occurs on the first Tuesday in February, giving adults tips on how to keep children safe in the online world.

The third week of March marks ‘Blue Week’, an annual week of raising funds for awareness about the charity and visiting as many schools and businesses as possible to illustrate why the charity is so important, and here’s where you can help. Childline aim to get as many people involved as possible through various events and activities, one of which being the #8008 challenge. You can get involved by posting a creative picture of their helpline number in some way on social media with the hashtag #8008. Some companies aimed to do this by donating a figure using these numbers (£800.8). Last year, even the Convent joined in by baking a cake with the number on it! This year, Childline will be giving away car and moped 8008 stickers. One car or bike bearing this sticker will be selected at random to win a nice prize. Another activity during this week will see schools holding ‘Blue Day’, where everybody will wear blue and donate to Childline. This year almost all local schools are on board.

As we drain our cups of the last drops of coffee, I ask Annie and Jo to leave us with their lasting message: “Every childhood matters. Obviously we are here for the serious issues, but it doesn’t have to be. We want people to know you can ring for anything, even if you don’t know whether you should be concerned or not. We’re here. Let off steam; if somethings niggling, just get in touch. Our specially trained team are ready to respond and it can be as anonymous as you’d like.”

Childline is so much more than just a helpline. It’s a resource for young people and adults who may need an extra helping hand with any issue that’s weighing them down. As the team stresses, “Mental health can affect you whatever your background. We all have our good and bad days, wherever you live and whatever you do.” Luckily, there is no problem too big or too small for this dedicated team of professionals.

Get involved: Blue Week will take place from 19th-23rd March, with Awareness Day on Thursday 22nd March outside the ICC.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 8008 or contact the team via email help@childline.gi or via the live chat feature on childline.gi. For more information about the work Childline does or to get involved, email info@childline.gi.