Childline: what we are doing makes a real difference

NSPCC Foyle and Childline have recently merged bases in the North West and are now located at one site in Derry’s city centre. Cormac Nolan, Head of the Childline Online Service, explains his work with the charity.

Friday, 20th December 2019, 11:50 am
Updated Monday, 20th January 2020, 1:25 am

With almost three-quarters of Childline’s counselling sessions with young people now taking place online rather than via a phone call, the helpline service must remain at the forefront of the latest digital trends.

And Derry man Cormac Nolan, Service Head of Childline’s online service, is front and centre of overseeing that this happens.

As part of his role, he also works with similar organisations from as far afield as Greece to Japan, trouble-shooting on their country’s similar helplines and ensuring best practice.

His team helps create, manage and moderate all content on the Childline website, including more than 600 items per day submitted by young people, some of which are on message boards.

He says: “We help to create content and act as hosts on Childline social media channels, responding to messages from children and young people.

“A key part of my role is to ensure this content is in line with Childline policies and behaviours and that children and young people are safeguarded across the Childline website and social media channels.

“I am also involved in a number of specific projects aimed at innovating how we deliver content on the Childline site and how children and young people interact and engage with that content.

“A key focus for the Childline online service team is ‘self-help’, empowering young people to find support and help on the site by themselves, where that is appropriate.”

He adds: “A typical day starts by running checks on social channels and content children and young people have submitted overnight to the Childline website.

“It’s important to double check things have been done correctly and that nothing has been missed. If any follow-up action is needed, then it usually falls to me.

“Often, time is spent reviewing existing content and researching new content ideas. We get a lot of feedback and ideas from site users and we are always keen to explore and use the ideas submitted by children and young people, where possible.

“As safeguarding is central to my role, throughout the day, I will spend time talking to my team about items of content that give rise to concerns for young people and what action, if any, we need to take.”

Cormac, who is from the Collon in Pennyburn, first joined the NSPCC, which runs Childline, in 2007 as a sessional supervisor supporting volunteers taking calls from children and young people.

He says he wanted to join the organisation as the NSPCC and Childline are “leaders in safeguarding and child protection and the opportunities for personal and professional development were too good to miss”.

Cormac (50), who graduated from UU Magee with a BA (Hons) in International Business Communication, and who also has a Diploma in Counselling, worked his way up through Childline, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Ever-evolving and keeping pace with a fast-paced digital world, Childline is now working on content to ensure that it is user friendly to children and young people who are hearing and visually impaired.

Cormac says: “I do work closely with other colleagues in NSPCC in trying to make the service and site as usable for children and young people as possible. One key area we are working on at the moment is to enhance our deaf zone content and create audio content for visually impaired users – we are keen to ensure that our offering, in terms of equality, diversity and inclusion, is the best it can be and that all young people are catered for. I also have a lot of contact with organisations similar to Childline across the country, from Scotland to Belfast to Dorset, and around the world, from Greece to Japan, where I support and advise their work around helplines for children and young people.

“For me, the best bit of the job is seeing some feedback from a child or young person thanking us for what Childline has done for them and telling us about the difference that the site or service has made to their life.

“The challenges can be ensuring that we meet the needs of as diverse a group as possible; it’s important to stay as up to date as possible and, where possible, ahead of the curve and we are always looking at technology which may be able to help us with that.

“Nationally, children and young people talk to us a lot about sex and relationships and mental health also remains a key area where children and young people struggle to cope in a safe way and understand what is going on. They also find it hard to engage with direct services provided for them.

“We can offer both general and direct help and to know, from those same young people, that what we are doing does make a positive difference.”

Adults concerned about a child can contact the NSPCC helpline seven days a week on 0808 800 5000, or email [email protected]