Every day of the year a selfless team of Childline volunteers give up their time to listen to children and young people about anything that might be worrying them – and Christmas Day is no different.
For some children, Childline provides that vital lifeline when they feel they have nowhere else to turn and last year the service delivered 6,566 counselling sessions to children and young people from across the UK and Channel Islands during the 12 days of Christmas – 24 December 2019 to 4 January 2020.
There to support them is a devoted team of volunteers, ready to listen any day of the year about any issue from mental health and emotional wellbeing, to family relationships, abuse and neglect, or self-harm and suicidal feelings.
Among the selfless volunteers giving up their time during the festive period, will be Jan Dock from Prestatyn who has been volunteering for Childline since November 2017 after retiring from a successful career in the Army.
“This is the first time I will be doing a Christmas Day shift with Childline,” says Jan.
“Fridays are one of the two days I normally volunteer and it seemed so natural to keep myself on shift this year.
“Although people often see Christmas as a happy time, which I’m glad about, there will always be those who – for whatever reason – are struggling. And it must make any problems or worries seem so much worse, knowing others are enjoying themselves.”
Although many children don’t disclose where they are contacting the service from, last year during the 12 days of Christmas more than 250 children shared that they were from Wales.
Jan adds: “For me, being able to be there in case anyone is worried, lonely or just wants to talk is important.
“It’s something I just cannot explain, it’s like having a duty to do my shift, but more than a duty, just natural and the right thing to do.”
As a former Army mechanic, Jan is no stranger to spending time away from family during the festive period and will be cherishing the moments she has with her relatives on Christmas morning and when she returns from her shift in the evening.
“I’m lucky, I have a great, loving family, who have got used to me being away over holidays and celebrations and they totally support and understand my choice to do a shift on Christmas Day,” she says.
“To me it’s not a hard decision, to give up a few hours of family time to support others. I know life is not infinite – it is a precious thing.
“Where I have served in the Army and what I have seen has proved how precious it is. “However, living our lives purely for ourselves is not fulfilling. Being able to contribute to society brings value to my life and it’s important for me to do that not just when I have time, but to make time.”
During the 12 days of Christmas in 2019/20, Childline counsellors from bases in Cardiff and Prestatyn delivered 577 counselling sessions, answering contacts from children and young people from across the UK and Channel Islands, with young people being put through to the first available counsellor, regardless of where they are contacting from.
“The calls we get at Childline are unpredictable,” says Jan.
“I really don’t know what to expect over the next few weeks, or any shift. I find it easier to go in expecting nothing and that way I’m open minded and accepting of whatever the young people would like to talk about.
“We’re very lucky at the Prestatyn base, it’s like a massive loving and supportive family and between us we will be supporting the younger generation through the remaining time in this pandemic and beyond.”
Volunteer counsellors are supported by trained staff supervisors like Sally King-Sheard, who started volunteering as a Childline counsellor in 2008. She’s now employed as a Childline supervisor, providing training, guidance and support to volunteers during their shifts.
For Sally, Christmas will start with sharing gifts and a hearty brunch with her family before starting her shift.
“I started volunteering for Childline in Prestatyn around 12 years ago and I’ve been here ever since because I am constantly inspired by the volunteers who give up their time to help others and the children and young people that contact the service,” she says.
“Christmas will be a little bit different for me this year. Usually I am away visiting family at Christmas, but this year I’ll be on shift supporting our volunteers who will be coming in. They are giving up their time as a volunteer and so it will be really lovely to be able to say thank you and I’m sure I’ll be dishing out a few mince pies too.
“At Childline we know that Christmas isn’t always the happiest day of the year for some children and young people. Being available on Christmas day and every other day of the year can help a child or young person feel less alone, knowing there is someone ready to listen and support them through whatever might be happening for them. It’s as important as having the emergency services available 365 days a year.”
Just £4 pays for Childline to answer a call with a child in need of support, but with the charity relying on donations from members of the public for 90% of its income, its launched its Here for Children Christmas Appeal, appealing for people to donate £20 to the NSPCC so that services like Childline continue to be here for children when they need it most.
Sally says: “It wouldn’t surprise me if this year is busier than years gone by because 2020 has been an unprecedented year for all of us and at Childline we have seen the impact that the pandemic has had on children and young people across the UK throughout this unusual time.
“For us though, it doesn’t matter what a child or young person wants to talk to Childline about, pandemic related or not, if it’s important to them, it’s important to us – that doesn’t change just because it is Christmas Day.”
The pandemic has had an impact on the number of volunteers able to offer their time at the Childline base in Prestatyn and so the charity is continuing to appeal for more English and Welsh speaking volunteers.
Recalling her own decision to volunteer, Jan says: “I completed my Colour Service and hit my retirement, which left me feeling like I was no longer contributing to society. My niece suggested I looked at Childline and I was surprised how many skills I had learnt through a totally different career could be transferred to helping to support our younger generation.
“It just proves that whatever walk of life you’re in you can still contribute to something worthwhile and for me helping to support our younger generation is very important – they are this country’s future.”
Childline volunteers come from all different backgrounds with varied life experience, but the common thread that runs throughout is a passion to protect children and young people from harm.
Jan says: “I can still remember everything about that first call, maybe because it was my first. It was when I really realised how much having someone to talk to is so important to people, it really hit home with how much it meant to that caller.
“I realise it every time I speak with the young people and each time I genuinely feel honoured that they feel they can talk to me. It just proves the fantastic non-judgemental reputation of Childline and how valuable it is.”
To find out more about volunteering with Childline and how to apply visit the charity’s website or contact the staff team on 01745 772 101 or via [email protected]. Successful applicants are asked to give a minimum 4.25 hours per week as a counsellor, and receive a comprehensive training package.
Children can call Childline on 0800 11 11 from 7.30am to midnight from Monday to Friday or 9am to midnight on weekends. Or they can get in touch via www.childline.org.uk. Anyone with any concerns about the welfare of a child can call the NSPCC Helpline seven days a week on 0808 800 5000, email [email protected] or visit nspcc.org.uk for advice.