"Why an adult might make a hoax call to us, we don't know"
Gabrielle Geraghty, ISPCC Volunteer
"The day of my very first shift on Childline, I was standing at the big heavy door and I definitely had a moment of 'what am I doing here?'
One of the supervisors opened the door and ushered me in, and the reality of what I was about to do hit me. My very first call was a lovely call from a little fella who rang to talk about school and home. He was a little worried about bullying, but when I summarised everything he had said and said it back to him, he was like, 'Wow, how can you remember all of that? Oh my God, no-one ever listens to me'. It gave me such a lift, making him feel great about being heard.
Training for Childine was brilliant. I'm a real softie, so I knew it would be difficult to hear what these kids had to say. I wasn't entirely sure I wouldn't cry on the line. But the training was very intensive, and helps you to deal with each call. Having that insight, and knowing you can make a difference, makes it easier to take those difficult calls. Training helps you remove yourself and park your own life to one side and put yourself in the position of a child who calls.
In a four-hour shift you take so many calls - we take about 1,800 a day - and you are concentrating so hard on each caller that when you take the next one, you have to [emotionally] let the other one go so you can give that next child the same level of attention. At the end of each shift, I wind down with a cup of tea with the other volunteers and you talk about how the shift went. There's a really great feeling of camaraderie here. Everyone is on board for the same reason, and we're really good at supporting each other through the shift. Not only do you feel like you've done something with your day on the helpline, you also start thinking, 'of all the children I spoke to, how much worse would their day have been if I wasn't there for them?'
We are a non-judgemental listening service, and I get asked a lot, 'do you not feel as though you want to help these kids more?' It's not that you don't want to get help for them, but what you do is help each child look at the options available, and then they make a decision that works for them. We don't know their world of family support - only what they're telling us. Believe it or not they're the best judges of their own lives. We might ask them, 'Who else is there in your life?', and they might mention an older sibling and they'd have never thought of talking to them. Kids can actually find their own solutions. They're so much more powerful than we give them credit for.
We had a call one Christmas - a really hard one - where the child rang in and opened her presents on the phone with us. Often it can be very difficult not to take calls like that, especially at Christmas. We all assume that every child is experiencing a magical and mystical world and the reality is that they're not. When you volunteer like this, you realise how privileged your own life is.
We have a list of adults who have been identified as over-18, and there's a procedure in place [for dealing with hoax callers]. We don't engage with them, or we refer them to a service like Aware or the Samaritans. But we're a non-judgemental service, so once a caller says that they're under 17, we take the caller as they present themselves. Why an adult caller might make a hoax call, we just don't know.
To anyone thinking of volunteering on Childline but worried about how upset they might get taking a call from a child, I'd say that you would be very surprised at your own coping skills once they're tapped into. No-one is so hard on the line that a call wouldn't knock a feather out of them, but everyone has the same fear before they start doing this work. By the time you get onto the line itself, you're so well equipped to deal with all sorts of calls. I know it's not a perfect world, but I like that I have a small part in making it a little bit better."
In conversation with Tanya Sweeney
For more information on Childline and volunteering opportunities there, see ispcc.ie