Childline is here for every child struggling or feeling alone this Christmas, is Dame Esther Rantzen’s message to children in Northern Ireland after UK counselling sessions about loneliness peaked during last year’s festive period.
The NSPCC-run service Childline, which has bases in Belfast and Foyle – both of which will be open on Christmas Day, can today reveal the service delivered a record number of almost 600 monthly sessions about this concern to children across the UK last December.
From April 2020 to March 2021 there were 6,039 counselling sessions about loneliness with children from across the UK, marking an all-time high for a single year. This is an increase of nearly half (49%) over the past four years.
The NSPCC has long highlighted that many children and young people struggle with loneliness and isolation. The data released today suggests that these feelings were exacerbated during the pandemic, as schools were closed, and they were forced to stay at home. Children shared with Childline’s counsellors that these experiences were particularly acute over the festive period, as households were unable to mix.
Dame Esther Rantzen, Founder of Childline said: “At Childline we know how painful Christmas can be for some children, particularly when the media is filled with pictures of families happily celebrating together, and they are feeling alone and unloved. A child once described it to us as like looking through a shop window where everything inside is warm and bright, and you are outside where it’s cold and dark.
“The festive period can be especially difficult for children who are struggling with their mental health or are in homes that are unsafe. Given the impact of the pandemic, it is no surprise that this year we’ve seen record numbers of children from across the UK get in touch with us about loneliness. The lockdowns exacerbated these feelings for some young people, especially when schools had to close, and they couldn’t see the friends and family they loved and needed.
“Last Christmas was one of the toughest in living memory, bringing with it great sadness and challenges for many children. And we want to remind children in Northern Ireland who are struggling or feeling alone that our Childline counsellors, working from bases across the UK, including Belfast and Foyle, are there for them whenever they need to talk to someone, and that they can contact us by phone or on-line, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.”
Mairead Monds, Childline Team Manager, who has been with the charity for eighteen years, added: “Children in Northern Ireland have gone through so much over the last eighteen months and many of them have spoken to us about the isolation and loneliness they have felt during this difficult time. I urge any young person who needs help over the festive season, or any other time, to get in touch. We will always be here for you.”
The charity can also reveal that loneliness is particularly affecting younger children. In 2020/21, there was a 47 percent increase in counselling sessions with children aged 11 and under when compared to the year before.
Young people who contacted Childline about loneliness also talked about being unhappy, feeling unloved and generally low. Some described it as a dark experience that was overwhelming. As well as loneliness, the top reasons children turn to the service for support with their mental health include anxiety and stress, low mood, and depression.
Childline is staffed by 1,200 Childline volunteer counsellors across the UK and last month celebrated its 35th birthday.
Christmas can be a very challenging time for children who suffer from abuse, neglect and are struggling with their mental health. Cut off from school and other support, it is vital they have somewhere to turn. The NSPCC is reaching out to the public to support its Here for Children Appeal and make a donation, so Childline counsellors can answer a child’s call for help this Christmas.
On the 21 December, which is the longest night of the year, hundreds of people will walk 5K to support the NSPCC. On this night, landmarks across the UK, including Enniskillen Castle, McKee Clock in Bangor and Newry Town Hall, are also supporting the charity by lighting up and turning the NSPCC’s trademark green colour. The people taking to the streets to walk and the landmarks lighting up green represent the hard-working Childline counsellors who are there for children, offering a beacon of light in their darkest times.
The Childline service is here for children every day, even on Christmas Day. Children can contact Childline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. When a child needs help, Childline can be a lifeline. When a child feels like they have nowhere else to turn to, it’s vital that the NSPCC is here, ready to listen and support children across the UK.