NSPCC Foyle and Childline have recently merged bases in the NW and are now located at one site in the city centre. Margaret Gallagher, Head of Safeguarding in Communities at the NSPCC, explains how her work with local parents helps shape the charity’s work nationally.
From educating parents about online dangers to workshopping national charity initiatives, no two days are the same for Margaret Gallagher whose work out and about in the community takes her to every corner of NI.
Her role as Head of Safeguarding in Communities involves testing the NSPCC’s latest national campaigns with local community groups and small organisations.
She says: “I jointly manage a team of Local Campaign Managers across the UK who deliver local awareness-raising and behaviour change campaigns along with community partners on a range of safeguarding issues including neglect, online safety, bullying, PANTS - The Underwear Rule - and, most recently, ‘Look, Say, Sing, Play’ - an early years campaign.
“I certainly don’t have a typical day and that is a good thing as I work on so many different projects at one time in different locations. I am based at the Foyle Hybrid Centre and work alongside my Childline and Service Centre colleagues and volunteers so I get to see the work of these two life-changing services at first hand if I am in the office for a day.
“But most days I am out either meeting our community partners, such as local community groups, or those in education and health services, about campaigns that we are running or hope to run. The team I jointly manage covers the UK so I support my team to deliver their local campaigns in their respective areas and this has given me great insight into the similarities and the differences of our communities which is unique to this role.
“As part of my role, I also deliver 02 workshops to parents and adults on online safety. The NSPCC have a unique partnership with 02 that has allowed us to bring the best of safeguarding advice about the online world along with the back-up and the technical know-how of 02.
“I also do media interviews and may have meetings with strategic statutory partners to see any opportunities to help keep children safe on a range of issues and how using a preventative model we can signpost families who may need support as early as possible to local support and encourage them to reach out as we know that is a very hard step to make.
“My role and the role of the team I manage is to join with local groups in communities and, either, respond to local need for a local issue of concern to raise awareness, or, bring some of our national behaviour change campaigns, such as PANTS The Underwear Rule, right into the heart of the community.
“We also test out national campaigns ideas, resources with communities across the UK and get their views on the ideas and how we are planning to communicate with communities such as with our very successful PANTS campaign when I went to a number of groups in Derry to test the concept ideas at an early stage. We are a team of ‘doers’ on the ground, acting as a bit of glue to pull local groups together to deliver a campaign; but we also try to act strategically across regions/devolved nations and scale-up successful campaigns and roll out to other areas.”
Margaret, who grew up near Derry’s city centre, went to Thornhill College before continuing her studies at the NW ‘Tech’, as it was then known, and, later, UU Coleraine.
She says: “After leaving Coleraine, having completed a Media Studies degree, I came back to Derry and started doing all sorts of jobs in various places - media and communications related and volunteering work also.
“This was the late 1980s and the place had lots of opportunities for being creative and community-based hands-on work. However, around 1996, I moved into a different area, becoming counselling co-ordinator for Derry Well Women and that took me in a different direction and one that I felt most suited to in my life - helping support others.
“I had been working around the area of domestic abuse for eight years at that point as a trainer and developing policy for Foyle Women’s Aid and this gave me a huge insight into how abuse impacts on families. I had previously managed counselling services for Derry Well Women, again seeing the lasting impact abuse may have. Both experiences had given me an insight into abuse, both from an adult and child perspective.”
Margaret joined the NSPCC in 2008 as a Local Campaigns Co-ordinator. “The NSPCC was an organisation I had always respected in terms of their strong leadership on the issue of neglect and abuse and I used to meet some of their staff at various meetings locally. I had always felt a strong connection to their passion for children. The post that came up seemed a perfect combination for me having a background in media/communications and the area of child abuse and neglect.
“I have to say the feeling that what I am doing is making a difference is the best bit, whether by helping raise awareness on an issue, signposting people to services, introducing new ways to help safeguard children - all of them add up.
“You might be overwhelmed sometimes by the challenges, such as the scale of the problem of abuse and neglect and, whilst I tend to acknowledge that, I then try to put my focus and energy into just keep making changes, small or large, where possible. Listening to communities, to learn from families who are experiencing difficulties and those who work closest with them, is key to my team’s work also. We need to respond in ways that suit best to their lives and needs.”
Margaret also outlined the challenges of her job and the times she feels she is making a difference.
“Honestly, it is any day when I meet someone who is having a concern about a child or young person or a challenge in their own life and I have helped them to a service that might help. I cannot wave a magic wand and create more services and change systems, but we do have good community and statutory partners in NI within our local community-based services and we have our helplines also.
“I think the easier we can make it for anyone to recognise they might need help for themselves or their family and the easier we make it for children and young people to know that we, as adults, are there for them and listen to them, hopefully if we can support and intervene earlier to turn around or stop the situation that is causing concern for them, we can achieve the best outcomes for all.”
Margaret also outlined the biggest issues facing children in the NW right now.
“I think for any child or young person, a situation in which they are frightened, confused, scared or worried, whatever that is , it is their biggest issue, so constantly listening to children and young people is key. We can also look at the child protection statistics and reports which report on the categories of abuse and it is concerning that we see year on year increases in many categories.
“Personally, I feel the impact of austerity and poverty will continue to compound the stress of life for any family under pressure.
“I think the increase in young people’s (and now younger children’s) mental health and emotional wellbeing needs is a real challenge for us all and how best to respond to this.
“I also think the online world, whilst it can be a place of opportunity and support, can impact adversely on young people in terms of potential abuse and bullying.
“The issues of domestic and sexual violence, parental misuse of drugs and alcohol and support for parents experiencing mental health issues continue to challenge our communities and make a demand on us all to do all we can, every day, to support those affected from the grassroots to government.”
For more info, check out: www.nspcc.org.uk