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Protection 'not an issue' in most calls to Childline

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Minister for Children, James Reilly.

Minister for Children, James Reilly.

Minister for Children, James Reilly.

The overwhelming majority of calls to Childline are from children who "want to talk" and do not relate to serious child welfare or protection concerns, according to Minister for Children James Reilly.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children's (ISPCC) 24-hour helpline faces night-time closure unless the charity can bridge a €1.2m funding deficit.

Earlier this week, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Dr Reilly signalled he may intervene to save the charity phone line's 24-hour service.

Benefit

Speaking to the Dail he said he has asked department officials to meet with the ISPCC along with Tusla, the child and family agency, to "examine how best such a service can be provided to the greatest benefit of Ireland's children".

However, he said "the overwhelming majority" of calls are unrelated to "serious child welfare or protection concerns".

Childline's national manager Margie Roe said the phone line is in an "emergency situation at the moment as regards funding".

"All of our calls are not about abuse, and thankfully not, because we answer almost 500,000-a-year," she said.

She said around 13.5pc of calls relate to abuse and welfare, with around 18pc dealing with mental health issues.

"That is self-harm, suicide, anxiety and other mental health issues, which to me are a huge child protection concern. The rest will be things like bullying, relationships with parents and just children looking for information," she said.

"It is a narrow view to just talk about our role in child protection. A service like Childline is a preventative service.

"For a child just to come on and immediately talk about a problem is extremely difficult. It is difficult enough for an adult."

She said children sometimes call up to five times before "really talking about what's bothering them" and she added that the majority of welfare concern calls come through in the late hours.

She said Childline's interim director of services has met with the minister before and a funding proposal was sent to his office "a few months ago".

Dr Reilly has acknowledged the work of the ISPCC over the years in providing support to children and their families.

"The Government will continue to support the welfare and protection of vulnerable children and families. We are making significant improvements in this regard," he said.

He said he is aware that a fall in the level of public donations for Childline has created financial difficulties for the service, adding that Tusla has provided the ISPCC with €476,000 worth of funding in 2014.

Budget

Ms Roe said none of that money has gone to Childline. She said the service has received a nominal level of funding for the past two years, with the amount received equating to 5pc of the service's budget.

"What I would say is that the minister needs to take Childline seriously and accept the fact that we are in crisis and we need support," she said.

"Other child helplines are supported to some level and some are fully funded by governments. It just doesn't make sense to me why we haven't had that same support."

SEE PAGE 16


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