“For me it was a safe haven” – Leeds volunteer bullied as a child urges people to play their part for children by becoming a Childline counsellor

A volunteer from Leeds is urging more people to volunteer with Childline to help support young people continuing to struggle with the repercussions of the pandemic.

24-year-old Julia Plazzi from Leeds, who has been volunteering at the Yorkshire Childline base since 2017, is urging people to show their support for the children’s charity and be there for children whose lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic.

Julia said: “I had contacted Childline as a young girl myself, I had faced bullying when I was younger because of my dual nationality and for me it was a safe haven, somewhere to talk. Then I remember Childline coming into my school, we had a day of learning about becoming a peer support mentor, I got a certificate and then at lunchtime friends could come and talk to me if ever they were feeling upset.  So those experiences made me realise I always wanted to be there for young people.”

When she applied to become a volunteer, Julia was a student studying social psychology, she said: “I didn’t think I would be in anyway qualified. But actually, Childline prides itself on recruiting volunteers who can empathise with children and young people. It is about who you are as a person.”

The Yorkshire Childline base in the heart of Leeds city centre is one of 12 Childline bases across the UK, delivering counselling sessions to children and young people about everything from abuse, neglect and suicide to relationship breakdowns, exam stress and mental health concerns. But Leeds is one of only two bases in the UK to take online contacts only. This means that specially trained counsellors in Leeds only offer confidential advice either via email or live chat messages. But no matter where children and young people live, they can contact Childline via the phone or online and will be put through to the first available counsellor.

Julia’s appeal comes as stark new data highlights the huge toll of the pandemic on young people. Since April last year, Childline has delivered almost 90,000 counselling sessions to young people across the UK about mental health or abuse.

Over the last year, the child protection charity has grown increasingly concerned about the impact of the pandemic on children’s wellbeing and on young people living in homes that aren’t safe. The charity’s Childline volunteer counsellors, as well as supporters and partners, continue to work incredibly hard to ensure the service stays open to provide young people with somewhere to turn.

Julia thinks it was incredibly important that the service and her fellow volunteers were identified as key workers during the pandemic. She said: “I take real pride in being here for children every time I come on shift, to know that after taking such a big step to open up and tell a stranger their worries and fears they know we will be here for them, without judgement. As we only take online contacts I think this helps young people and children have a real platform to open up, to process what they want to say and really express themselves more than perhaps they could over the telephone. They can be creative and can take their time especially if they are feeling panicked or scared.”

Childline in Leeds is in need of more volunteers to help the charity be there for even more children and young people. Volunteers are trained to develop the skills needed to offer comfort, support and practical advice to many young people and children who contact the service for help.

Julia hopes that people will consider offering their time and become a volunteer for Childline. Julia says: “The training is really detailed and you are really supported throughout especially by the role of trainer to trainee. It’s a 12-week journey and it is an emotional journey sometimes for some people but it’s a brilliant journey to be on.”

“But at the heart of it all, no matter how long the service runs for I am always mindful of a key phrase that I use in any online chat I have with a child or young person, that it is up to them to decide what they want to share, it is completely their choice as long as they know they will be listened to and they won’t be judged.”

Darren Worth, Childline Team Manager at the Leeds base said:

“Volunteering with Childline is one decision that might just change your life. Childline gives you the opportunity to make a difference to the lives of children and young people that need someone to listen to them when they feel like they have nowhere else to turn.”

To find out more and register your interest, please email ChildlineVolunteerRecruitment@nspcc.org.uk

Children can contact Childline every day of the week on 0800 11 11 or via childline.org.uk where 1-2-1 online chats can be requested.

Anyone with any concerns about the welfare of a child can call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or visit nspcc.org.uk for advice.

Photo Credit: Tom Hull

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