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Help is just a phone call away

Teenagers will help pick staff who will field calls to a new helpline. Adi Bloom reports

Scarlett Brown articulates the classic agony of the misunderstood teenager.

"Everybody's been a teenager," the 16-year-old says. "But nobody remembers what it's like. Adults come up with an idea and think that young people will love it without asking us. Then, if we don't like it, they say, 'oh young people'."

It is a typical teenage complaint. In this case, Scarlett, an Abergavenny Year 12 pupil, is explaining why it is so important that a new helpline for Welsh children is developed with young people.

"It's difficult to judge what's going on in a young person's life if you're not young," she says. "People need to see the world from our viewpoint."

The freephone helpline will be launched this autumn by the office of the children's commissioner for Wales. Created by the Welsh Assembly in 2001, the office of the children's commissioner has the statutory and legal right to intervene in devolved public services on behalf of any child. So, where other helplines may provide advice and guidance, theirs will offer more practical assistance.

For example, when a 13-year-old girl rang an existing helpline, telling volunteers that relentless bullying had driven her to attempt suicide, the commissioner's office called a meeting with her headteacher, local authority representatives and social service workers. Eventually, a joint approach to the problem was produced.

The office has already conducted a survey, asking children what they want from the helpline. Answers include a text message service running alongside the phonelines, multi-lingual volunteers, and opportunities to share views and opinions as well as problems. Also on her computer, Elaine Cloke, who manages helpline volunteers, has a list of requirements drawn up by Welsh children. "They don't want someone who's disrespectful or rude," she said.

"They don't want someone who talks more than they listen, and they don't want to have to wait on the line while volunteers go and get documents.

They want people who communicate effectively and clearly. And they want honesty: if you can't help, say so. It's not just a job. They want someone who genuinely cares."

Fifteen-year-old Cameron Thomas is assistant representative to the children's commissioner for his home authority of Blaenau Gwent. He hopes to be among those helping to select the volunteers.

"Young people can spot if someone's right for the job," he says. "If they're going to be working with young people, young people need to be able to trust them."

Peter Clarke, children's commissioner for Wales, will give the keynote address on Thursday, May 25 at 10am

* Darren Bird, national co-ordinator of Funky Dragon, will talk about the children and young people's assembly for Wales on Thursday, May 25 at 1.30pm

* Michael Evans of Rhondda Cynon Taff behaviour support service will give a practical guide to tackling bullying for teachers and support assistants. He will look at the early signs that a child is being bullied and discuss how to support bullies and the bullied. He will speak on Thursday, May 25 at 12 noon

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