A dramatic increase in the number of recorded sex offences against children in Northern Ireland underlines the importance of ChildLine to the region, Dame Esther Rantzen has said.
The ChildLine founder was in Belfast on Monday to mark the 30th anniversary of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) counselling service.
According to police figures, the number of recorded sexual offences against children in Northern Ireland has risen by more than 50% in the past five years.
ChildLine bases in Foyle and Belfast answer around 30,000 contacts from children each year. There are currently 170 trained ChildLine volunteers in the region.
Dame Esther said referrals from ChildLine to statutory agencies in Northern Ireland have almost doubled in the last year.
She said those referrals were often aimed at preventing attempted suicide.
“There can be no doubt that in these cases, ChildLine’s intervention saved children’s lives,” she said.
“The increased confidence and willingness of children to speak out when they are experiencing such lows in their lives should be welcomed, but ultimately it means that we have even more responsibility to ensure that every call is answered.
“We know that this is a time of low resource in many areas, but as the figures show, we need ChildLine more than ever. The committed volunteers are there to do the work, listening to children and young people who have no one else to turn to; now we need everyone else to play their part to help sustain the funding that enables us to be there for every child.
“With up to 90 per cent of the NSPCC’s funding coming from public donations, we constantly need this support to keep vital services like ChildLine running.
“We also need government departments to invest in ChildLine so that we can recruit, train and retain more volunteers who can be there, ready to provide support for every child who needs us.”
Lady Brenda McLaughlin, NSPCC Northern Ireland trustee, said: “A lot has changed about why and how children contact us. But what hasn’t changed is the willingness of members of the public to give up their precious time to volunteer for the service, listening to the children who contact us all year round, day and night.
“We are always training new volunteers to respond to the contacts we receive from children and young people - we don’t require any special skills, just an ability to listen.
“ChildLine has roles for voice and online counsellors, as well as counsellors who will deal exclusively with the children who contact us by email.”