Denbighshire schools trial new ChildLine help service

Esther Rantzen at ChildLine's office in Cardiff
Image caption Esther Rantzen says bullying is still a major issue for children

Primary schools in Denbighshire will be among the first in the UK to welcome ChildLine volunteers reaching out to children in need.

The charity is creating a ChildLine Schools Service, which is being piloted in north Wales.

It will teach youngsters about abuse and bullying and where to get help.

Visiting Cardiff for ChildLine's 25th anniversary, founder Esther Rantzen said it was a non-threatening way to educate children about serious issues.

She added that volunteers would be key to making the service a success and said more were needed.

"Our aim is to go into every school in the UK every two years," said the TV presenter, who set up the charity, which runs 24-hour free helplines and online counselling services.

"Volunteers will firstly talk to the children in their assembly and then will go back to do workshops with them.

"It will be a non-threatening way of telling them what's okay and what's not okay. For example, what secrets are good, like birthday parties, and what secrets are bad and when they should tell someone.

"We've had a brilliant response from schools who are keen to take part."

She said her 25 years at the charity showed what issues needed to be addressed.

"We get slightly less calls now about physical and sexual abuse," she said.

"But there are more problems within the family, a lot of bullying - which remains a very serious problem - drugs, violence at home, violence from other children..."

The ChildLine Schools Service comes after ChildLine reported a 19% rise in calls and online contact from children over Christmas, with 48,751 young people getting in touch between Christmas Eve and 4 January.

Research by the NSPCC, which runs ChildLine, shows that the majority of children who contact the helpline for advice, information and support are over 11 years old.

However, the majority of children on a child protection plan are under 11, which is why the schools service aims to reach out to children at an earlier age.

Call centre closure

Rhian Jones, ChildLine Schools Service area co-ordinator for Denbighshire, said the charity was keen for local people to sign up as volunteers to go to schools, with training provided.

"There is no set 'type' of volunteer, but we want communities to be involved and see the service as belonging to them locally," she said.

Ms Rantzen spoke about the importance of the schools service while visiting volunteers at ChildLine's online service in Cardiff.

She said she was sad to see the closure last year of the ChildLine call centre in Swansea, which prompted a petition from people wanting to save it.

She said 22 counsellors had moved from the Swansea office to Cardiff, working on the charity's online help service, which has counselled 978 young people online via one-to-one chats and e-mail in the three months since it opened.

"Because of the recession and the fact that money is tight we had to close the Swansea centre, which was very sad as it had been running since 1999," she said.

"But it meant that we were able to move staff to the centre in Cardiff, where we can focus on the online service.

"It is a really valuable and important service as it deals with some very serious issues, which children might not be able to put into words on the phone, such as children with eating disorders, young people self-harming, children who feel suicidal..."

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