Buddy the friend kids never knew they had

Childline Schools Service volunteers Carole Richardson (right) and Linda Slack, both civil servants
Childline Schools Service volunteers Carole Richardson (right) and Linda Slack, both civil servants
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ChildLine is letting children know they have the right to be both safe and happy

Meet Buddy – friend to children the length and breadth of Blackpool and beyond.

Buddy is not a balloon or a ball. He has a tail attached. He is not a tadpole either. Or ... and at this point the giggling usually starts for nine to 11 year olds are a giggly bunch by and large and bounce ideas off one another with rising hilarity.

In fact, Buddy is a speech bubble. You know –like they have in cartoons?

ChildLine schools service volunteers say Buddy helps them get across a serial message in a light hearted manner.

He’s put his initials to the campaign to safeguard children - literally.

B - being kind

U - understanding other people’s feelings

D - doing the best you can

D - don’t keep sad feelings to yourself

Y - you have the right to be safe and happy

Y is probably the most important initial of all. Why? Because it’s a given that’s often taken from children –that right to be safe and happy.

ChildLine is all about helping children talk freely about anything that is on their mind, and Buddy helps children open up and feel better.

Just look at these comments from children at Blackpool primary schools...

“It was helpful because it explained in detail what I need to do if anything is wrong.”

“I now know to ring ChildLine if I’ve got any worries about abuse.”

“I learned that keeping quiet about my problems won’t help fix things. Now I’ve spoken to someone and feel much happier, they helped me work out how I can stop the bullying.”

Karen Appleby, head of Kincraig Primary School, Bispham, explains: “The content and style of the workshops was fun, varied and age appropriate. The children were all able to join in and answer questions regardless of their ability or emotional development and the materials were sensitively used without being graphic.”

ChildLine Schools Service coordinator Chris Dunn, based at the resort’s showcase NSPCC centre off Plymouth Road, Blackpool, hopes to take the service into every primary school across Blackpool and the Fylde – and get a regular circuit established along with revisits every couple of years.

The former professional footballer and father of two says he hopes to reach an even younger age – rather than the current Year 5 and 6s (those nine to 11 year olds) with an equally age appropriate safety message.

“Children grow up faster,” he admits. “The sooner we get in to talk to them, the better.”

When injury wrecked his pro player prospects he got into community work with Bolton Wanderers and fell on his feet.

“I found where I wanted to be - helping kids. And where better than with ChildLine?”

ChildLine has come a long way since it was started by TV personality Esther Rantzen back in 1986. It later fell victim to its own success with more children calling than there were help lines open or volunteers manning them to respond.

One big breakthrough has been the greater use of online aid - more younsgters are computer-savvy and able to go online for assistance. More children have their own phones. The balance is now right.

But more children are falling victim to cyber bullying and other high tech threats – so with the positives go immense negatives. Such issues are 
addressed by the volunteers visiting schools.

Another Lancashire head teacher, Karen Stephens, of Buckshaw Primary near Chorley, also covered by the service, points out: “Over half of our children voluntarily visited their website within a day or two, and reported back to the others that they had benefitted from doing so, which enabled others to follow.”

Locally, the service is delivered by volunteers including two Blackpool civil servants Carole Richardson and Linda Slack who learned of the need, and decided to do their bit. Carole explains why: “We work together and I already donate to the NSPCC and was reading about the appeal for volunteers on the website – and saw the stuff about the school service.

“Linda and I both have children of about that age – and it sounded interesting and something we could fit around work. And it has worked, thanks to flexi time and the fact that the civil service is pro-volunteering and the Department of Work and Pensions, where we work, gift so many days to the community.”

The friends started in May last year, after initial training. “Chris the coordinator or experienced volunteers come along as mentor for the first few but it went well for us both. It helps that we have children our own. Two of mine are in their 30s and one is 11 – and I have grandchildren as well.

“It makes you a natural story teller and we tell them a story about a little boy at school who is neglected and we ask the children whether he is rich or poor and we ask questions about him. Invariably they say he is poor but then realise that neglect – or bullying – is not just confined to children from 
deprived backgrounds.

“You feel like you’re doing something really worthwhile. They feel reassured too because for some things aren’t right and they don’t feel comfortable but they find out they can speak to someone.”

ChildLine also reports a rise in calls to the helpline from an area after a school visit.

“Children can talk about a relationship if anything feels wrong and other things they may not feel comfortable with for whatever reason.

“We talk to them about common scenarios rather than specifics and give them the information to make their own decisions as to whether something is appropriate, acceptable or not acceptable. It’s not always black and white.

“It’s all appropriate to their age group.

“We talk about bullying, including cyber bullying, and the different sorts of neglect, whether it’s not having basic clothing, or the right sort of food.

“And it’s great when the kids engage with you. We do an assembly and watch the film of what happens when you ring ChildLine and then we go back a week later for a workshop with them.

“That’s where the real value is - they get so involved, exercises within the workshop and it’s marvellous to see how much they have remembered from the week before.

“They all know the phone number (0800 1111) and the website (www.childline.org.uk) address.

“A lot of kids are on the internet so it’s part of their comfort zone - whereas they might have felt more dubious about ringing.”

Research by the NSPCC, which now incorporates ChildLine, shows that an average of two children in every primary school classroom have suffered from abuse or neglect.

The majority of cases go undetected.

These young children often feel alone and desperate and many have nobody to turn to.

Most children who contact ChildLine are over 11 years of age, many suffer in silence for months or even years before eventually finding the courage to contact ChildLine, leaving themselves and other children at risk from perpetrators.

It’s just over a year since the ChildLine Schools Service announced the national roll out of an ambitious programme to visit every primary school in the UK by 2016 to help younger children’s understanding of abuse and how they can stay safe. Blackpool’s helped trial that project.

To date volunteers have visited 858 children in 12 schools across Blackpool and the Fylde - focusing on nine to 11 year olds.

“We emphasise prevention,” says Chris. “The existing helplines and services available are great in responding to the needs of children when they have experienced things but we want to get out there and deliver those messages at an earlier stage.

“I’ve been involved since the service began. We are trying to educate and empower young people, tell them where to go if they have any worries. Everybody who goes into school is fully trained. The young people often come with a range of their own background issues and sometimes they will contact ChildLine and we hear about their issues then.

“The bottom line is that if something isn’t comfortable talk to a trusted adult. It’s a development of the things we all learned about of old - stranger danger, right and wrong touching, speaking out against bullying - put into the modern context. We use phrases like physical and emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and bullying but we cover a range of issues outside of those – and all in 

child friendly language.

“They don’t go away with graphic information but know that if something happens to them - they know where to turn to.

“And every delivery is different- which is thanks to the volunteers.

“You come away with the sense that you are leaving them in a far better place than when we went in.”

* If you are interested in finding out about volunteering opportunities with the ChildLine Schools Service or are a primary school interested in hosting an assembly and workshop, please visit www.nspcc.org.uk/schoolsservice or contact Chris Dunn, ChildLine Schools Services co-ordinator, on 07976 065343 or email: chris.dunn@nspcc.org.uk