Three-in-five pleas to Childline were left unanswered
A CHARITY has raised fears that the pleas of distressed children might be going unheeded after almost 400,000 calls to Childline last year went unanswered.
Children's group, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), called for more support services after it was contacted by thousands of children who were depressed, isolated, suicidal, or concerned about sexuality and pregnancy issues.
Three out of every five phone calls failed to make it through last year due to a shortage of volunteers manning the lines.
"I would hope children phone back or they are using the text service, or using the web, or getting what they want from those services. But I am very worried that some children might slip through the net," Paul Gilligan of the ISPCC said.
More than 240,000 calls were answered, representing a 16pc rise on 2005. But Mr Gilligan said the service needed to double its volunteer workforce of 180 to cope with the floods of calls.
The ISPCC, which funds the Childline services, said its 2006 statistics highlight a worrying increase in mental health difficulties affecting young people.
There were 692 phone calls and 7,324 automated texts concerning the issue of suicide. Another 5,000 calls were made by young people seeking to discuss mental health issues.
"There are more and more young people who are phoning up who are depressed, isolated, who are feeling suicidal, who are self-harming. It is a small number in the overall context but it is a growing number. Evening the content of the calls is quite worrying," said Mr Gilligan, who called for Life Skills Education in all primary schools.
"They are describing they are self-harming, they are talking about serious suicidal ideation, they are talking about hopelessness, so it is not 'I'm having a bad day today' type of call.
"With youngsters that, psychologists and psychiatrists will say to you that for a youngster to feel like that it is serious, for an adult to feel like that is one thing to hear it from a child who has their whole life ahead of them is very concerning."
Jillian van Turnhout of the Children's Rights Alliance said the figures showed schools, parents and other organisations needed to look at the Life Skills Education being taught to young people.
It especially needs to focus on how to deal with issues in life.
Dan Neville, president of the Irish Association of Suicidology, said: "We are aware of children as young as seven years of age discussing suicide among their peers.
"Often people are concerned with the issue of suicide and feel they shouldn't be discussing it with children," he added.
"A general part of their development should be how to deal with issues in life."
"The State should invest and re-examine priorities in relation to informing children and young people in relation to coping with crisis and difficulties."
Around 20,000 calls to Childline last year were about sexual issues, 5,307 involved pregnancy, 3,606 were about the facts of life and 2,416 concerned sexual identity.
The charity's website received over 11,000 hits, while its text service was contacted over 100,000 times, the majority concerning pregnancy.