Behind the News: Monica Rowe – Childline volunteer
The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children says a funding shortfall might threaten its 24-hour helpline
Monica Rowe: “It’s hard to listen to a child crying down the phone.” Photograph: Eric Luke
The most difficult calls to deal with are the ones in which the caller doesn’t speak but sobs throughout the call and then hangs up, says Monica Rowe, who has been a Childline volunteer for almost four years.
“What we do on these calls is say, ‘We’re here for you, we’ll always be here for you, whenever you’re ready, we’ll get help for you if you want it.’ ”
One of 650 volunteers with the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Children, Rowe is concerned that the funding shortfall highlighted by the organisation this week will result in reduced services – particularly reduced hours for its Childline service, which is the only 24-hour helpline for children in the Republic.
“I have talked to children day and night who have experienced depression, loneliness, emotional difficulties, bullying and suicidal thoughts.
“Surely these children should have access to the support they need, when they need it,” she says.
“It’s hard to listen to a child who is crying down the phone, distressed and asking for help. What makes it harder is knowing that one in three calls will not be answered.”
Childline received about 660,000 phone calls last year and answered about 440,000.
Volunteers also had 13,000 text conversations and almost 7,000 web chats.
All of its services are available for young people up to the age of 18.
A mother of a grown-up son, Rowe ran anti-bullying, self-defence and confidence-building courses in schools for years before funding for such extracurricular courses was cut.
“I was working mainly with transition-year students, and I was so aware that some children had experienced bad stuff that they should have talked about earlier.”
She says there is a worrying increase in cyberbullying. “I say to parents with technology, it’s like the child can take the entire world into their bedrooms. It frightens me – and we are getting the results of it on the phone lines.”
Childline volunteers do a four-hour shift each week, having received training over eight weeks before they begin.
“Our role is to reassure the child who has called. It takes an enormous amount of courage to pick up a phone and call Childline.
“We will never tell a child what to do, give out advice or lead the conversation in a certain direction,” she says.
Although the ISPCC is obliged to report any concerns about a child to the Garda or a social worker, the Childline volunteer will do so only if the child requests it.
“We encourage the child to stay on a first-name basis, and if he or she is in trouble we will explain that we can get help if needed but that this will never happen if the child doesn’t want it.”
Childline is at 1800-666666 24 hours a day. Text “Talk” to 50101 for text conversations or text “Bully” to 50101 for support about bullying; these services are available from 10am to 10pm. See also childline.ie and ispcc.ie.