A Derry volunteer is urging people across the north west to support Childline to help more children this Christmas.
Cora Deery from Culmore has said people can make a real difference by volunteering or by making a donation to help children and young people in need.
For more than 30 years Childline has been there for children and young people, some of whom are facing their darkest hours with nowhere else to turn.
However, due to rising demand for online, evening and night-time counselling the NSPCC-run service can now only respond to three in every four young people who need its help.
Childline has two bases in Northern Ireland – in Derry and Belfast and has had a presence in Foyle since 2007. It is now based at Exchange House in the city centre.
The children’s charity wants the capability to be able to respond to tens of thousands more young people who are contacting them via the website or on their phones during the peak hours of 4pm and 1am.
To do this requires employing extra staff to support volunteers and to be there when children and teenagers need them most - all of which comes at a cost of an extra £500,000 per year.
To close this gap, the charity is calling for people across Northern Ireland to make a donation by sending a simple text, with just £4 covering the cost of a counsellor responding to a child in need.
Cora, who has been a volunteer Childline counsellor in Derry for a year and a half, knows how important the service is to the children who contact them.
Cora, who is a final year psychology student at Queen’s University, Belfast, said: “I became a volunteer for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted experience to boost my CV and career. However, I got a lot more than that - I gained a new meaning to my life. It highlighted to me how lucky I have been in my life to have the simple things of a house, food, heat and two parents that support everything I do. It opened my eyes to the realities of our young people and they should not have to go through that alone.
“Secondly, I wanted to meet new people, people who care about our community and again I got a lot more than that.”
The 20-year-old added: “I believe it is important to make the so-called “untalkable” talkable, so any chance I have to get involved in change I jump at it.
“I have loads of stand-out memories from shifts. Some of my highlights would be having a young person initially coming onto the phone hysterically crying and having panic attacks to by the end of the call the young person laughing and feeling safe.
“Another stand out memory is when we are able to create a safety plan to ensure the young person is kept safe throughout the night. Most of all what stands out is every time a young person says ‘thank you’, or ‘I feel better’. There is nothing quite rewarding as that.
“My fellow volunteers are amazing, they’re bubbly, hilarious, intelligent but most importantly supportive.”
She added: “If we are teaching our young people from a young age to open up and talk, to avail of support services this could lead to less disastrous outcomes in the future.
“Have you ever felt alone like you had nobody to talk to? Have you ever felt much better for getting things off your chest? I’m sure the answer is yes and that’s why you should donate to Childline. We provide a safe place for our young people to talk and that is invaluable.”
The NSPCC is the leading children’s charity fighting to end child abuse in the UK and Channel Islands. Using voluntary donations, which make up around 90 percent of the charity’s funding, they help children who’ve been abused to rebuild their lives, protect children at risk, and find the best ways of preventing child abuse from ever happening.
Childline manager for Northern Ireland, Mairead Monds, said: “Childline is there for children day and night. However, developments in technology have meant that young people are now communicating with us in very different ways which are placing the service under real pressure. We are seeing more children call us later in the evening, and we now deliver many more counselling sessions online, which can take twice as long as phone counselling sessions.
“We would always urge children to keep contacting us and to always try to wait until a counsellor becomes available. But we really want to try to get to those children who need our help more quickly. That’s why we really need people to make a donation and allow us to support every child when they need us most.”
Childline is appealing for more volunteer counsellors for its Foyle base, especially people who are willing to work in the evenings and overnight when many young people feel at their most vulnerable and are most in need of support and advice.
Last week NSPCC Childline’s service manager in Foyle said that reports of sexual predators grooming children and young people online were on the increase.
Georgina McGlinchey was speaking after figures published by Childline this week showed that in their Derry and Belfast bases alone, more than 150 counselling sessions on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) had been delivered last year.
Local volunteers at the NSPCC Childline bases delivered a total of 154 counselling sessions to young people worried about CSE in 2016/17 – up from 80 in 2015/16.
Across all of the 12 Childline bases in the UK, the NSPCC service delivered 3,122 counselling sessions to young people concerned about CSE in 2016/17 – an average of eight per day – and up from 2,340 in 2015/16.
One girl told Childline: “I was playing a game online and started talking to someone who asked me to send them rude pictures.
“They said they were my age and after talking for a while, I sent them some pictures, but now they’re blackmailing me and threatening to show everyone if I don’t carry on. I feel really stupid and I’m scared about what will happen, what should I do?”
Children and young people can contact Childline for free, confidential support and advice, 24 hours a day on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk
To find out more about becoming a Childline counsellor visit www.nspcc.org.uk/volunteer
To make a donation go to: www.nspcc.org.uk/what-you-can-do/make-a-donation/