Georgina McGlinchey is head of the Childline branch in Derry.
The head of the Childline Foyle office in Derry has shared the challenges the service has faced and overcome in the last year, with staff and volunteers rallying together to be there for worried children and young people.
“As keyworkers, Childline staff and volunteers have been supporting children and young people throughout the pandemic – making extraordinary efforts and adjustments to keep the service going,” says Georgina McGlinchey.
Childline Foyle had to adapt swiftly, increasing its ability to answer contacts from children and young people online, and delivering some of its counsellor training virtually too.
At the same time, the base suffered a significant drop in volunteer numbers because of volunteers needing to self-isolate to stay safe.
Georgina says: “Our staff members and volunteers have been facing the same challenges as everyone else across the country - home schooling their children, caring for dependents, and coping with financial concerns because of family members being furloughed or losing their jobs.
“Despite this, and the ongoing challenges, they continue to demand of themselves the best they can possibly be so that children and young people get as much help as we can offer.
“Volunteers that have been able to come in to the base have been going above and beyond – going from giving one shift a week to three or four to help make up the numbers.”
Foyle is home to one of 12 Childline bases, from which volunteer and staff counsellors answer contacts from children and young people across the UK – listening to them about any worries they may have.
“More and more young people are talking about their struggles with mental health generally but also because of COVID-19,” says Georgina.
“The isolation has gone on far longer than people expected – and a year can seem like a lifetime for children and young people.
“They have shown great resilience in the last 12 months, but the impact of the pandemic for many has had a profound effect on their sense of future and wellbeing.
“We all have a responsibility to make sure they get the support they need in the weeks, months and years ahead – no matter where in Northern Ireland they live.
“For some children and young people, we have heard how home is not a safe place and the last year has been a fearful time where there is little escape from threats of violence and abuse.
“Many of the usual outlets for children and young people to seek support such as school, youth clubs and extra-curricular activities ceased to be a part of their life, almost overnight.
“That’s why it’s been so important for Childline to remain available to children and young people at an extreme time of uncertainty. If we didn’t have the volunteers that were prepared to give up their time that just wouldn’t have been possible.”
The impact of the pandemic resulted in a huge depletion in the numbers of volunteers able to give their time, but the response from members of the public to an urgent volunteer appeal has helped the service stay afloat for those who need it.
“Volunteers are our lifeblood,” says Georgina. “They are so important for the service, helping us continue to be there to listen to children and young people at a time when their world has been shaken up.
“The response we had to our appeal was amazing and we are so grateful to everyone who responded, however we still don’t have enough volunteers to cope with the demand from children and young people, which we know will continue.
“So, it is vital that we continue to ask for the support of the public, seeing if giving their time to children and young people is something they could do.”
More information about volunteering for Childline Foyle is available on the charity’s website, or from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Successful applicants are asked to give a minimum 4.25 hours per week as a Childline counsellor, and receive a comprehensive training package. All training in Foyle is delivered online.
Children can contact Childline every day of the week on 0800 11 11 or childline.org.uk.
Anyone with any concerns about the welfare of a child can call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or visit nspcc.org.uk for advice.
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