Someone to lean on

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READY TO LISTEN ISPCC Childline volunteer Dee Higgins at her desk in Castlebar.Pic: Conor McKeown

ISPCC Childline volunteer Dee Higgins says her role is rewarding in more ways than one

Anton McNulty

When Dee Higgins signed up to be a volunteer with Childline’s 24-hour support line at their Castlebar unit she was expecting to be dealing with crisis calls about abuse and suffering.
While those crisis calls are a sad reality of life in modern Ireland, Dee was surprised to discover that sometimes young people just want to have a simple chat.
“I got a call from a very young girl who was very proud of the Rice Krispie buns she had baked for a cake sale. I have calls from young people walking home from school just chatting about what they were doing at school and what they were going to do at the weekend. They just want to have a chat and feel safe talking to somebody.
“I was surprised [by these calls at the beginning] but now, seven years on, I think it is nice that children can ring up just to talk and they have that mental space to do that,” Dee told The Mayo News.
The Childline service is provided by ISPCC, which is now recruiting volunteers for the service in its Castlebar unit. The 24-hour support line is for all children and young people up to and including 18 years of age; it is free to contact, confidential and non-judgmental; and it can be reached online, by text or by phone. 
Dee, who works as child-minder from her home in Castlebar, feels that joining the Childline service as a volunteer is the best thing she has ever done.
“When I started I did it to give something back, and I got more back than I possibly could have imagined. I have met people there who have become friends for life. In our Mayo unit we come from all walks of life. There are volunteers there who are in their early 20s right up to retirement age. We are all totally different but we all have a common bond to be there and listen.
“When I started I was worried about saying the wrong thing and doing the wrong thing, but the skills you learn during training really prepare you to engage with children and young people, and train you how to listen and hear what they are actually saying or what they are trying to say.”
Dee added that the volunteer’s role is to listen to the young people when they call and allow them to get into a position to make decisions for themselves.
“We don’t give them advice, and we would not consider ourselves to be in a position to give advice. Some people find that hard because I suppose we are Irish mammies and daddies and great at giving advice. But you can see how it works because a young person is in the best position to make the best decision for themselves. We can chat through things, and by chatting through how they feel they usually come to a decision themselves. If they are not ready to come to that decision in that moment in time, that is fine too.”
Traditionally, back-to-school time is busy for Childline. The service gets a lot of calls around mental-health issues, such as self harm, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, and Dee has noticed that Covid has had an impact on some young people.
“During Covid, they were not able to have their normal life like normal teenagers in forming relationships and dating and going out… that sense of independence. There would be anxiety around that. The young people missed out on that right of passage during Covid, and there was a sense of loneliness as well,” she said.
Dee said that although talking and listening to children who have suffered is not easy, the support the volunteers get from each other helps them through. She described the young people who contact Childline as courageous and encouraged more children to reach out.
“At times it takes a little bit of time for them to work up the courage. They are very brave.
“What is nice about Childline is that you can just ring up and have a chat about anything, and you realise it is a safe space and we don’t judge. If they do have a problem, that connection has been established and they feel safe enough to ring again. You sometimes have young people who ring a number of times and others who ring once-off and that’s it.
“For a child or a young person to really believe they have been heard and believed is powerful. I would encourage any child or young person who has anything on their mind to call. It doesn’t have to be a crisis; we are there for that, but we are also just there to chat,” she said.
Dee also encouraged anyone interested in volunteering with ISPCC Childline to give it a go and feel the rewards.
“It is definitely worth doing. You get so much back, and the skills you learn in the training, which translate into your home and work life, are invaluable. Whatever effort you put into it you get so much more back.
“I thought I would do two or three years, but the seven years have absolutely flown, and if you were ask me would do seven more, I would probably say yeah.”

For more information on becoming a Childline volunteer, see ispcc.ie/volunteer-childline or email volunteerrecruitment@ispcc.ie.