Childline is a voluntary service which works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We asked volunteer Eric O'Byrne to tell us what it's like to work for the service on Christmas Day.
It’s easy to forget that Christmas isn’t light and airy for everyone. For some, it is one of the darkest times of the year.
It can be wholly unforgiving, lonely and a day only thought of with dread.
For children, it’s supposed to be a time filled with awe and magic. However, many don’t have this experience. Christmas Day can be isolating and they may think they have no one to turn to or support them.
However, Childline is a support system they can rely on. The voluntary and free service is a 24-hour national listening platform for children and young people to talk about their worries or situations which may be upsetting. The service is provided by a team of voluntary staff who work 365 days a year – with Christmas being one of their busiest periods.
We chatted to volunteer Eric O’Byrne who explained in detail what it’s like to work for the service on Christmas Day.
What it’s like
“Working for Childline on Christmas Day can be very difficult, albeit, at times, very rewarding. We get numerous phone calls that remind you how lucky you actually are, certainly for me in my life anyway and I think a lot of my colleagues would say the same thing.
Christmas is typically seen as a time of happiness and joy where you spend time with family and friends. Unfortunately, with the phone calls we receive over the Christmas period, and particularly on Christmas Day, you see that this isn’t always the case.
We are reminded of the fact that there are people who are missing loved ones or may have lost someone close to them throughout the year. We might come across a case where the children are neglected completely by their parents or maybe haven’t done anything for their kids on Christmas Day or during the festive period and obviously, for any child, this can be heartbreaking. Particularly, in Irish society, this can be incredibly difficult.
These children want to go to school after the holidays and talk about the presents they got with their friends but for some of these children, their Christmas was the polar opposite to their peers.
There is a mixed bag of phone calls that we receive during Christmas Day. We would certainly see an increase in calls which focus on alcohol. The children may feel uncomfortable being around their parents as a result of drinking or the effects of alcohol on the family may be too much for them to take.
Many of them feel lonely or feel like they are missing out on something, as children perceive Christmas to be a happier time.
We receive phone calls from all ages and we will speak to anyone up to the age of 18. However, typically most of our calls come from those between the ages of 12-17.
The work is completely voluntary. Our standard shift would be four hours, but on Christmas Day it is broken down into two-hour slots because of availability issues and just making it easier for people to do the work and spend time with their families too.
There is a clear increase in phone calls on Christmas Day. It’s one of our busiest days in Childline.
Sometimes, it can be really, really difficult to separate yourself from the work, especially when a difficult situation arises. Thankfully, we receive excellent training. It’s really relevant and well thought out training which helps you to manage these situations. There are also other support systems in place which are there to help us should the occasion arise.
You also have the support of your fellow volunteers. There is a team atmosphere and even though you may have never met the other volunteers before it doesn’t matter because we all understand we are there for one reason on the day and that is to help these children.
Childline is completely confidential as a service. We are bound by the Child Protection Act whereby if we felt a child was in danger and they had provided enough identification or identifying information, we have a duty of care to that child to pass on that information to the relevant services.
Obviously, we let children know all of this because we want them to know they can trust us. We don’t ever want them to be in a position where they think they don’t have control over it.
At times, people might ask for a specific incident or a particularly difficult call, but as a volunteer, these children trust us so for me to turn around and talk about a specific child would be breaking that trust. We want them to know they can say anything to us in complete confidentiality. Sometimes, it might be the first time they have ever spoken to anyone about their worries.
90% of our funding for Childline is from donations. Without those generous donations, we simply would not be able to run the service and be there for those children who need our help in their time of difficulty.”
If you would like to find out more about how you can donate or volunteer with Childline, please visit ispcc.ie/volunteer-with-childline.