Helplines: Call for help

A voice on the end of the telephone can be a life saver – the elderly are the latest group requiring a dedicated helpline. But funding problems threaten cuts at a time of great need

It is 25 years since ChildLine first launched, back in the autumn of 1986. Then the presenter of That's Life!, Esther Rantzen had lobbied for its creation with the help of her BBC producers. When the philanthropist Ian Skipper came on board, it was made possible. Since that moment, the line – now part of the NSPCC – has been taking calls from distressed young people 24 hours a day, every day.

It was a ground-breaking innovation. In the intervening years, ChildLine has grown exponentially, answering more than 100,000 calls a month, while expanding its online advice facilities. Each week, it receives 29,000 "contacts" – be that in the form of emails, online chat requests, message board posts or phone calls.

"Our aim is that every single child in the UK feels they have someone to talk to," says Sue Minto, the charity's head. What's more, helplines themselves, as a concept, have caught on. The ability to seek advice from experts stationed by a phone 24 hours a day has become an established part of modern life.

It's not just child welfare. Charities right across the board have embraced the helpline as a way to deliver care to those who need it most. From mental health to domestic violence, disease and parenting, the array of help on offer is a reflection of our hard-working and varied voluntary sector.

Soon, hopefully, we will see the launch of a new helpline for the aged, a so-called "silverline"; Rantzen recently called for one to combat the "dehumanising" treatment uncovered in some care homes.

"There is no doubt that if you are talking about something private, it can be easier done to a stranger rather than someone you know," says Jane van Zyl, head of operations at the Samaritans.

Like ChildLine, the Samaritans' helpline is one of the most widely-used, nationally recognised services on offer. With more than five million contacts per year, it will be used by an anticipated 193,000 callers over Christmas.

It is also, quite probably, the oldest helpline out there. It was founded back in 1953, when the Anglican minister Dr Chad Varah decided to advertise his phone number so that members of his parish could contact him for support. Exceptional in his liberalism, he had been struck early on in his career by the tragedy that lack of communication can inflict. The first funeral he conducted was that of a teenage girl who had recently experienced her first period. Unable to recognise it and consumed by shame, she took her own life.

Key to Varah's way of thinking is a lack of interference.

"We train our volunteers to listen," explains Van Zyl. "It's not about specific advice. We do 'signposting' – letting people know what help is out there – but we won't tell them what to do."

Both ChildLine and the Samaratans rely on volunteers to keep their services running. Indeed, the Samaritans is almost entirely staffed by volunteers – aside from a few paid employees at their head office, work is done on an expenses-only basis. ChildLine, meanwhile, currently has some 1,200 volunteers working alongside their team of professional councillors and supervisors.

"They can be from any walk of life," says Minto – though, of course, they must undergo the charity's rigorous interview, screening and training process beforehand.

"Once they take to the phones, volunteers will have to navigate the tricky territory between offering help and hindering their independence. We don't want callers to build up a dependency. Rarely do we promise that they can speak to the same person."

If we find it easier to talk to an anonymous stranger about certain problems, rather than sitting, face-to-face with someone we know, then finding help online offers yet another layer of protection. "It's not rocket science that young people communicate through other channels," notes Minto of this. In 2007, ChildLine received four years of Government funding to help expand their online operation. Now it is possible for to contact them by email, using one-to-one online chats conducted in real time or by posting on the peer-support message boards.

While family relations, bullying and abuse dominate total contacts, depression and suicide are particularly prominent online. But if the future offers opportunities to broaden the means of communication, it also holds perils. The bleak economic outlook raises the possibility of funding cuts and shortfalls.

The National Domestic Violence Help Line, run in collaboration by Women's Aid and Refuge, costs more than £1million each year to provide – and the overwhelming bulk of the funding comes from the Home Office, London Councils and the Department of Health (as well as Comic Relief).

"Funding available through councils has been slashed," explains a spokesperson. "London Councils indicate that the amount of funding available in 2013 will be 75 per cent less. There is much uncertainty." Even where public funding isn't threatened the crunch poses problems when in securing donations. "There's no denying that it is a tougher market," says the Samaritans' Van Zyl, responsible for raising some £10m a year.

The thing is, should we lose any of our helplines, we wouldn't just be losing the chance to call a stranger in the middle of the night. They don't just act as a port of call – helplines also, in their services, conduct valuable research. By talking to the most vulnerable in society, they are able to understand their needs; their interests. In turn, they often provide the most effective public voice available. "We see ourselves as much being a spokesman for young people's concerns," says Van Zyl of this. Given the strain that a worsening economy, benefit cuts and unemployment is likely to place on society, this is only likely to become a more, not less, vital role.

 

ChildLine 0800 1111

Samaritans 08457 90 90 90

National Domestic Violence Help Line 0808 2000 247

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Cover Supervisor

    £75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

    Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

    Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

    SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

    £1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam