Philippa Metcalf (LLB in Law, 2020) has been volunteering in her spare time with Childline, a UK based charity that provides a counselling service for children and young people. In this blog, she reflects on what she has learnt from her time volunteering at the helpline and the power of listening.
Childline is a 24hour free helpline that provides a listening ear to anyone under the age of 19 within the UK, I have been so lucky to be able to volunteer for this service for close to a year now.
If I had to name one thing that I think is special about the service it’s that compared to others (e.g. CAMHS- which is the NHS adolescent mental health service) we have a very high tolerance for risk and a higher threshold for breaching confidentiality. As a teenager, emotions can take on an incredible intensity that I’m sure we can all remember. Having a safe space to be able to let these feelings out and process them anonymously without self-censoring for fear of consequences is so important. With a high tolerance for risk people can say pretty much whatever they want, venting fully without fear of censure or being sectioned.
The overwhelming privilege of being let into the private spaces that young people inhabit is a responsibility that I do not take lightly.
Childline has changed the way I listen, focusing on how something makes someone feel rather what they can do. Emotions are messy and complex, sometimes the triggers for these emotions are things that we either can’t change at the time or that will inevitably change with time. The power we have in these cases is over our own reactions (cliché as it may sound). Childline has taught me that things do get better- time can stretch on impossibly long when you’re young (it still does for me) but with age comes perspective and the dawning knowledge that you have to push through because there aren’t any other valid options. It has taught me that support is always there if you ask for it and that you need it. It’s taught me that just because someone’s in a full body cast it doesn’t mean that your broken arm doesn’t hurt. Pain is pain and the last thing we need is to feel guilty of ashamed of how we feel. It has taught me that the dichotomy we have between strong and weak, between valid and invalid feelings is absolutely false.
Significantly, this role causes me to confront my own privilege every contact I get. Childhood is significant in the extreme and these formative years shape the rest of an individual’s life and identity. It is categorically unfair that there are limited mechanisms available to provide a fair start for all. I could go on for hours about the lack of autonomy young people are afforded within society but it’s enough for me to be able to make even one individual feel listened to and respected.
I would love for anyone who even remotely likes chatting to people and has spare hours to considering volunteering for Childline. The helpline is 24 hours 7 days a week but can be understaffed on weekends and nights (I work the night shift on Tuesday from 11.45 to 4am) and any help is absolutely welcome! The night-shift is an interesting beast: as said it’s extremely understaffed and paradoxically has the greatest percentage of high risk contacts. I’m lucky enough that I managed to move my Wednesday classes to Thursday so I can lie in, it’s just another part of my routine now. If I’m being completely honest, I stay up later enough of my own volition most nights that it’s not such a shock to the system! I just loose a few hours of sleep once a week but trust me when I say that it’s absolutely worth it.
If you’re at all interested by what I’m saying please check out the website and please consider it!
If you were inspired by this blog, it’s not too late to get your volunteering started! Check out one of our other 200+ ongoing opportunities or book a one-to-one with David Coles, the Volunteer Centre Manager if you have more questions. If you are short on time, then take a look at the one-off opportunities happening over the rest of Lent Term, organised by the LSE Volunteer Centre. If you want to share your volunteering experience with us, why not write us a blog? Have a scroll through our blog page to read what other students have written and get inspired!