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Inspiring families with fresh thinking on parenting

Yano — Inspiring families with fresh thinking on parenting

ChildLine, 25 years old

Posted on 29th June, 2012 | filed under Featured, Yano Life


Esther Rantzen writes exclusively for Yano on the launch of ChildLine and the way it has been at the forefront of pioneering the plight of children, who are in danger in their own homes

Times have changed so much. Back in 1986, soon after ChildLine was launched, a broadsheet newspaper called it ‘the phone line that encourages children to sneak on their parents’! As if ChildLine was a threat to good parents and happy family life. As if children were being encouraged to inform on their parents, like children in Mao’s China. When, in fact, over the plst 25 years we have learned that even given the safety of a confidential phone line, children will go to great lengths to protect their families. As one child who contacted ChildLine because she was terrified that she was pregnant by her father said, ‘It was my job to suffer.’

But 25 years ago was a very different time.Then most people had no idea that some children could be suffering terrible abuse or neglect behind the net curtains in perfectly respectable homes. When, in October 1986 we revealed that fact in a special programme called Childwatch, which launched ChildLine, it was such a painful message that the temptation was to blame the messenger – a tabloid newspaper labelled our programme ‘the most dangerous show on television’.

I believed then, and believe now, that the only way to tackle a problem is to admit it exists, and try to resolve it. On that first night, when we opened our phone lines ChildLine received 50,000 attempted phone calls. Buoyed up by the children’s faith in us, and by the fact we knew from the start we were saving lives and preventing abuse, we continued to publicise ChildLine’s work and the Freephone number 0800 1111, and to expand and develop as fast as we could. Now 25 years later we have 12 bases around the country, have created on-line counselling services, and, wonderful news, at last we are meeting the huge demand from children.

Over the past 25 years we have helped almost 2.7 million children, and have tracked huge changes in young people’s lives. Back then, for many children the only way to contact ChildLine safely was to run to a phone box. Some put their lives at risk, escaping from their homes in the middle of the night to ring us. And because so many thousands tried to get through, and we simply hadn’t enough money, or volunteer counsellors, or phone lines to answer them all, many of them failed to get through. When they did, I remember speaking to children who described abuse that had been going on for 10 or 15 years – as long as they could remember.

Mobile phones have been a crucial liberation for children. Now they can ring us from anywhere, at any time. So has the internet. There are some problems, such as self-harm, or depression, which so destroy a child’s self confidence that they dare not attempt to talk about them. So they contact us online instead, and our counsellors have developed the skills to counsel them effectively via the internet. Now sexual abuse has been replaced as the most common problem (it is still in the top five), but at the very top of the list now are serious family problems. Which makes me wonder what has happened to our family life that causes so many children so much unhappiness?   At the moment we are analysing those calls, to try and find some answers.

ChildLine has never been a threat to good parents. But it may reveal ways we can support our children and protect them from pain more effectively. It did 25 years ago. It does so still today.

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ChildLine, 25 years old was posted on 29th June, 2012 by Esther Rantzen CBE under Featured, Yano Life


Esther Rantzen CBE

About the author: Esther Rantzen

Esther Rantzen was born in Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire, and graduated from Somerville College Oxford with a degree in English. She joined the BBC as a sound effects assistant in radio, then became a researcher in television, and in 1968 became a researcher/reporter for Bernard Braden’s consumer programme, Braden’s Week. When Bernard Braden went back to Canada, in 1973 Esther became the producer/presenter of the consumer programme That’s Life! which ran for 21 years, and drew audiences of over 18 million. It achieved fame, (and notoriety) for its talking dogs, Jobsworth Awards and campaigns on behalf of abused children, organ transplants, safe playgrounds, hospital patients and to provide justice for consumers. Esther also created the documentary series The Big Time which discovered singer Sheena Easton, invented the Children of Courage segment of Children in Need, and Hearts of Gold which ran for seven years, honouring unsung heroes and heroines. Esther presented her daily talk show “Esther” on BBC2 for seven years, and “That’s Esther” on ITV. She has made a number of pioneering programmes on child birth, mental health, drug abuse, and child abuse (in the campaigning series of programmes, Childwatch). In 1986 Esther invented the concept of ChildLine, (the children’s helpline which was launched on Childwatch), which she then chaired for twenty years. She is currently President of ChildLine, is a trained volunteer counsellor, and is a Trustee of the NSPCC since its merger with ChildLine in 2005. She is a Patron of a number of other charities including the Red Balloon to recover bullied children, and she helped to found the Association of Young People with ME, of which she is President. Esther has received a number of awards, including the OBE for services to broadcasting, and the CBE for services to children. She received the Royal Television Society’s Special Judges’ Award for Journalism, and was received into their Hall of Fame. In addition she was given the Dimbleby award from BAFTA, (the first woman to receive it), the Lifetime Achievement Award from Women in Film and Television, the Snowdon award for services to disabled people, has 5 honorary doctorates and has been made an honorary Fellow of Somerville College. Esther has appeared in Strictly Come Dancing for the BBC, and the jungle for ITV. She stood at the 2010 General Election as an Independent candidate for Luton South. In 2011 Esther published her book “Running Out of Tears” (The Robson Press) to celebrate ChildLine’s 25th Anniversary.