Plea for primary helpline phones

ChildLine is marking its 10th anniversary with a report on 10-year-olds. Telephones should be made available in primary and secondary schools so that pupils can call ChildLine, the charity says.

ChildLine - which celebrated its tenth birthday this week - says that many younger children are denied the chance to ring for advice because they cannot phone from home and it is difficult for them to get to a phonebox without alerting adults who may be the source of their problems.

In Listening to Ten-Year-Olds, a report to mark its anniversary, ChildLine says: "Some secondary schools do have a phone that pupils can use but this is very unusual in primary schools. We would recommend that primary schools consider making a phone available for children to use privately."

Some 3,000 10-year-olds called ChildLine in the year 1994-95; some were so scared by abuse or family problems that they were in fear of their lives, suicidal or threatening to run away.

Bullying and physical abuse were the most common reasons for calls, each affecting a quarter of boys and 20 and 15 per cent of the girls respectively. Next came family relationship problems and sexual abuse, affecting 8 per cent of boys and 10 per cent of girls. Finally, there are the calls from children who are worried or uninformed about the facts of life; this affects 5 per cent overall, the majority of whom are girls.

Bullying is the major problem faced by children outside the home, with most of it occurring in school. Thirty-seven of 50 children whose calls were studied in detail reported verbal bullying. Twenty-one of the children were physically attacked or hurt.

Most of the children said the bullies were of the same sex and age. "This suggests that in primary schools any work to prevent bullying with children in year groups will be of great value. Primary school children are accustomed to being taught as one group and it seems that this context could well be used to address their behaviour towards one another," says the report.

Of the sample of 50, 21 said they had talked to a member of staff at school, 14 to parents and eight to both. Of these only three reported a positive outcome, with the rest feeling that they were not listened to, that no action was taken, that action was ineffective or the advice was unhelpful. Bullying stopped only briefly as a result of telling.

Some of the children were too frightened to tell. Some had decided against talking to their parents because they did not wish to cause anxiety, or they were frightened or embarrassed.

According to the report, the effects of bullying were undermining. "Some did not want to go to school or were already staying away. One child even spoke about feeling suicidal."

ChildLine had calls from 262 10-year-olds whose main concern was sexual abuse, 83 per cent of whom were girls. Twenty-five of these cases were examined in detail for the report, and showed that the majority of such abuse is going on in children's family homes.

All forms of sexual abuse were described, from rape and buggery to oral sex, masturbation and touching. One girl said: "He keeps a gun and says he will kill me. If I say no, he burns cigarettes on me. He kisses me and cuddles me and touches me in the private parts. It's awful and it hurts."

Just one of the abusers was female. The rest were male and included relatives and teachers. The report says sexually abused children are extremely frightened, depressed and anxious; two of the sample of 25 were suicidal.

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