When Donna McConnell arrives at work each Friday night she admits she never really knows what to expect.
She could spend her evening dealing with prank calls from youngsters trying to order pizza. She could be hung up on just as soon as she says hello. She could answer emails or get involved in online chats with young people worried about their exams, or their friends. She could deal with children who fear for their safety - who are being bullied, abused or have turned to self harming.
“I suppose I do feel nervous every time I go into the counselling room,” Donna - one of a team of volunteers who keeps the Foyle base of Childline running smoothly - said.
Donna made the decision to volunteer for Childline as she wanted to “give something back” to society - but she admits at first she wasn’t sure if she would be suited for the challenging role.
“As a mother of two boys, my default setting was to want to fix things and wave a mythical magic wand and make things better.
“I came into the role with my rose tinted glasses very firmly on. You like to think that every child lives in a secure and happy environment but I very quickly learned that was not the case and that my magic wand was useless.”
She said she would be unable to do the job were it not for the training and support offered to her by the team at Childline and the NSPCC.
“The training allows you to see things differently. You see the whole world differently and you realise the merit there is in just being able to keep a child safe for half an hour.”
Donna describes the training as “very intense” covering everything from the childline ethos to dealing with difficult calls. “Some people decide it’s not for them during the training - and I have to say even up until the last minute I didn’t know if I would be able to do it.”
“My personal concern was that I would take the issues home with me and that I would sit with them - but how I deal with it is that ‘me’ is left outside the room and I go in there as a Childline counsellor and I deal with it that way.”
Each session counselling begins and ends with a debriefing, which allows Donna and her colleagues to talk over any concerns or issues they may have about the calls they have taken.
“We are protected as much as the children - we have that support there and without that we would not be able to keep going.”
If you want, like Donna, to volunteer your time at Childline then you can find out more at www.nspcc.org.uk