Childline volunteer Susan Mitchell says that empowering children by listening to them and believing what they are saying is the greatest reward she gets from her role.
And she is equally positive that the ISPCC’s recently new digital hub is helping parents and carers to understand issues and become empowered through the experience of making contact with this new Childline service.
Susan’s day job is with Woodie’s where she is category manager as well as fulfilling the role of Woodie’s heroes ambassador for Childline.
“I started in Woodie’s last January but before that my background was in fashion and buying. Four years ago decided I wanted to give back my time to a cause that was outside of friends and work. I was looking on-line and came across an information night for Childline. Something clicked as I just think young kids are cool, smart and witty. That connected with me and I went along to see if I could help.
“I had never volunteered before but once I saw what Childline was about and what they did with training and volunteer support, I was up for it. There were challenges for me – I had to see if I was good at listening while also undergoing garda vetting and three months training. I’m a talker by nature so I had to be sure I could listen, not just that but be an active listener for the children who get in touch with Childline.
“I do a four-hour shift one day a week in the evening after office time and if I’m honest, I get more out of it than I put into it. I think I’ve built up my kind karma!” she jokes.
“My role isn’t to talk but to help the kids think through their problems. I act as a sort of sounding board for them. You would be surprised the difference a childline volunteer can make in a child’s life just by explaining to them that they have a right to be heard and a right to be safe. This can be very cathartic for the children, many of whom don’t think they have such rights.
“The premise of childline is to be there, to listen and not to be the problem solver. Sometimes it is just actively listening to the emotion that allows a child think through their own feelings and thoughts while maybe give them a slightly different opinion.
“We get about 800 contacts a day through text, on-line and through the traditional phone calling to our helpline. Big growth in on line and text because of Covid because don’t think there is as much privacy now with adults at home through the last year.
“No two calls are the same. It may be worries about school or exams or sport while the more worrying ones is when abuse or neglect comes into the equation.
“And of course there was a massive impact last year from the Covid 19 virus because their world was turned upside down. There were increased incidences of isolation and loneliness, and the fact that they were not in control such as going out to meet friends. With school and sports cancelled lot of calls were worried about friends and family members and how they were coping.
“Many felt disconnected by not having places or events to go to. Sometimes you just talk to kids who want to have a chance to tell someone what games they played that day or what they did on PlayStation.
“In my time volunteering, I would have encountered maybe six to 10 what I’d consider to be ‘heavy cases’ where the children were at high risk. In those cases, we would reach out to the appropriate authorities so they could become involved.
“What I’ve found is that although the Childline is confidential, children are initially wary and then open up when they feel your support. They take time and use Childline as a support to see what options they have.
“The heavy calls can be tough but we have great people on my shift and we support each other, particularly in difficult cases and we also have the counselling service to fall back on.
“Childline is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done and the fact that it is a 24/7 service means we are always looking for more volunteers. I came from a fashion and DIY background but with the three months training and support I got, I know that I bring many of the things I have learned into my personal relationship and work and home life. The service is very modern in the way it gives us constant training and support as well as expert sessions to keep us up to date.
“It is really fulfilling and I find it helps to make my own worries disappear as well. It was especially wonderful to work through the Covid restrictions as it allowed me get out and talk to people.
“The volunteer they want is someone with an ability to learn, reflect and take the training on board. Childline is always looking to actively recruit and they want people to commit to 18 months to two years before the training.
“I am thrilled to say that my employer Woodie’s have been a strong supporter for charities like Childline which relies on 90 per cent funding from donations.
Susan describes herself as a northside girl originally from Coolock but now living in Killester with her partner Peter and a one-time stray cat that chose them as family. She is an adoring aunt to her nieces and nephews and loves spending time with them.
Contact – You can contact Childline for free at any time of the day or night by calling 1800 66 66 66. You can also chat with us live on this website, or, if you prefer to text, you can contact Childline by sending a text to 50101.