Pupils get a line on how call centre works in lending a hand

5th February 2010 at 00:00
For young people, asking for help can be hard, but workshops are showing them how to go about it

"If you were to contact ChildLine, would you prefer to do this by phone or online?" Nearly all hands go up for the telephone option. Interesting, as in October, ChildLine went digital, allowing children access to counsellors online as well as by telephone.

The opinions being sought are those of P7 pupils from Garrowhill Primary in Glasgow. ChildLine regularly visit schools, holding anti-bullying and assertiveness workshops, training pupils to become peer support workers, and raising awareness of the work it does.

Recently, P7s attended one of the workshops, with the added benefit of a tour of the helpline's office, where they were shown where the calls are answered.

The theme is raising awareness, and training and outreach volunteer Anna Selwood gets the class thinking about ChildLine. The telephone number may be easily recited, but the children soon learn how much it costs the helpline for each call (pound;4); how to ensure the call cannot be traced by someone using the telephone after them (pick up the phone and press any number); and the most common reason for calling (bullying).

Splitting the class into four, training and outreach worker Richard Caswell takes over, and gives each group an emotion to think about - sad, scared, angry, worried. On a sheet on the wall, they write as many things as they can which make them feel this way, and how it would affect their behaviour. The connection is obvious and Richard reinforces the message - talk to someone.

Teacher Jackie Bouch is not surprised most would prefer to use the telephone rather than the internet to talk. "We have spent a lot of time on internet security and the children are aware of the risks," she says.

Richard has asked the question several times before, so is also not surprised. "Usually, it is the older children who are more interested in communicating via the internet."

More than 1,200 children last year called ChildLine on behalf of a friend, and the next task is to draw a picture of a good friend and to list all the friend's characteristics. The obvious adjectives appear, and it allows for a discussion on how important it is to be a good friend.

The second part of the workshop takes the children to where it all happens; they are taken into the conference room where counsellors are briefed on the day's events by the supervisor, and where they can offload at the end of the shift. Sometimes, the calls they take can be very traumatic and for their own mental health it is important they are able to talk about things, rather than taking their problems home.

Because there is staff in answering the phones on the day they visit, the children can go no further but have the opportunity to ask questions. The subject of prank calls comes up and it is explained that ChildLine never views these calls as a prank, but as test calls where the child is testing the service to see what the helpline is like. They may call back later with the real reason.

Lee Branki, 11, was surprised to discover that ChildLine Scotland has its own bullying helpline which children can call: "I thought it was just the normal ChildLine service."

David Currie, 11, says: "I didn't realise it was so versatile, with text, email and phone. I also learnt about the kind of things you can discuss, anything from the smallest worry."

The children leave, having had a fun and informative morning, but also taking away some serious issues to think about, not least the role a friend can play.

But even if it is they and not a friend who may one day need to call ChildLine, their first impression has been positive. As Richard Caswell says: "All our awareness training work is important, and it ensures they know we're here.

"By coming into the office, it allows them to put a face to us and gets the memory into their heads. It means they know we are friendly and that we are here to support them when they do have problems."

Jackie Cosh, scoted@tes.co.uk.

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