SHAUN Friel has told of his career journey from counsellor to taking charge of Childline, the UK’s leading free helpline for children.
Shaun, who lives in Ballymena but who is originally from Scotland, first started working as an online counsellor for the NSPCC-run service in 2002.
He has held a number of roles during his 17 years with the charity and has taken the helm of Childline after heading up the NSPCC’s Speak Out Stay Safe programme which aims to educate and protect children against abuse.
Primary schools are visited and special assemblies are held as part of the initiative.
Shaun said: “I am both delighted and excited to be returning to Childline. My first role with the organisation was as an online counsellor and I have fond memories and first-hand experience of the significant impact the service makes to young people’s lives.
“Childline’s role in supporting young people has never been more important and I am joining a committed team of staff and volunteers who share a passion to put children first.
“I am also eager to link with my many colleagues who do so much to support our work and to explore how we can work collaboratively to improve outcomes for young people.
“I previously worked as a social worker in child protection and could see the importance of young people being able to access support and advice in ways that were accessible to them.”
The 46-year-old is in charge of a team of volunteers and staff working across 12 bases right across the UK with two in Northern Ireland – in Belfast and Foyle.
Childline is a unique service and on average, a child contacts Childline every 25 seconds. There are over 1,300 volunteers working in bases across the UK, alongside a number of staff counsellors.
Childline’s sites right across the UK provided 250,281 counselling sessions to children and young people in 2018/19.
Shaun said: “My initial focus has been on meeting as many staff and volunteers as I can from all twelve of our bases around the UK. I have met so many dedicated and committed people who share the same passion to support and enable young people, including the most vulnerable in our society.”
He said the biggest challenge in his job is trying to meet the demand for the service from young people which currently isn’t able to respond to one in three children who need help.
He said: “This is all the more important when we consider that Childline for many young people is the first service they tell about their problems and worries. We desperately need more volunteers particularly in the evenings and weekends when most young people want and need support.”
Speaking about the biggest issues facing children in Northern Ireland, he said: “The top three concerns young people talk to us about are mental and emotional health; family relationships; and suicidal thoughts and feelings.
“Childline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and young people can remain confidential which is important to so many young people who wouldn’t otherwise tell anyone about their concerns.
“Childline is there for all young people and provides a space where young people can talk confidentially whatever their worry is. We want young people to know that they don’t have to face these issues alone and that things can and do improve and that it is ok and healthy to ask for support and help.”
This has been a particularly busy time for Shaun who met with founder and president of Childline, Dame Esther Rantzen, during her recent visit to Northern Ireland. Childline was set up in 1986 by Dame Esther and became part of the NSPCC in 2006.
Shaun said: “Meeting Dame Esther is incredibly important to me. Without her vision, commitment and passion we would not have Childline and so many children would not have received vital support and acceptance over the years.
“Dame Esther has the same vision and commitment to ensure that the service continues to evolve to be there for children and to respond to their needs. I look forward to working closely with Esther to continue to develop Childline as it is as essential now as it ever has been for young people.”
Childline is currently recruiting for volunteers to work at its bases in Belfast and Foyle. For more information go to www.nspcc.org.uk/childlinevolunteer