Warning over Childline service funding

THE Childline service which receives 2,300 calls and messages every day from worried young people may not be operating from next year onwards, the ISPCC warned yesterday.

The children’s charity said the 24-hour service, which costs €4m a year to operate, had been budgeted for this year but may have to be curtailed from next year on if the required funding is not secured.

The warning came as the ISPCC revealed there were 837,551 calls and 27,710 texts and emails made to Childline last year, up approximately 20,000 on the figures for the previous year.

However, just 65% of calls were answered given existing strains on the service, and this despite the efforts of more than 500 volunteers at eight centres around the country.

The service — which incorporates the phoneline as well as text and online email services — receives approximately 2,300 contacts every day and takes up more than half of the ISPCC’s total annual budget of €7m. Funds raised dropped by almost €500,000 between 2007 and 2009 and the ISPCC said a decrease in raised voluntary income of approximately 4% was expected for 2010.

With the charity receiving about €600,000 in statutory funding each year, the remainder is secured through fundraising, at a time when members of the public have less disposable income than before.

This year’s statistics showed an increase to 15% of all contacts made online and 8% of calls, the number of contacts made regarding mental health issues, covering areas such as self-harm and suicide. The charity said the impact of the recession was behind this rise, as well as the 8% of phone calls and 19% of web and texts relating to family and peer relationships.

Worryingly, 13% of phone calls and 9% of web and text contacts related to abuse and welfare issues, a figure that has remained consistently high in recent years.

To combat this, the ISPCC is launching its “I Can’t Wait To Grow Up” campaign on radio and television, including hard-hitting adverts depicting a child being assaulted by an adult.

ISPCC director of services Caroline O’Sullivan said that this was the reality faced by many children in Irish society, making it all the more essential that Childline continue to operate.

“Our [financial] reserves are now as good as gone,” she said.

“We are okay for this year but Childline may not be around next year.”

Costs associated with running the service have decreased, but so has income while demand has increased, she said.

“People recognise this [child abuse and welfare issues] is happening, that this is not a figment of our imagination,” she said.

Some calls can last an hour, Ms O’Sullivan said, but an increasing number of contacts have been made through email and text.

She said teenage boys found it easier to discuss their problems online, whereas in other cases some children can make repeated phonecalls to Childline for years before they identify themselves and steps can be taken to practically address their problems.

With the Teentxt service, she said often teenagers got to the point regarding their issue more quickly.

ISPCC director of fundraising Lloyd Byrne said it was “a difficult climate” in which to be seeking money, while Ms O’Sullivan said she was hopeful the government would institute a referendum on children’s rights, so as to improve legislation to protect vulnerable children.

* childline.ie; ispcc.ie/donate; call 1850 50 40 50.


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