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Thousands of children contact Childline for support, Harrow victim shares story

Childline, operated by the NSPCC, has disclosed that it conducted 14,080 counseling sessions for children and young people on various abuse issues in the past year, averaging 38 sessions per day.

Disturbingly, 31% of these sessions revealed that the child had not previously disclosed the abuse, making Childline their first point of confiding. The NSPCC is releasing these figures as part of its Christmas appeal, emphasising the challenges faced by the over half a million children experiencing abuse annually during the festive season.

With schools closing and reduced contact with support networks, the charity anticipates increased risks for vulnerable children at home. Childline, being a vital lifeline for such individuals, will be supported through a nationwide initiative lighting landmarks in NSPCC Green on December 22, the longest night of the year.

Last year, during the 12-day Christmas period, 400 counseling sessions on abuse and neglect were conducted. Additionally, December emerged as the second-highest month for children seeking emotional abuse support, with 247 reaching out for assistance.

Under the alias name Caroline, a resident of Harrow, experienced emotional abuse from her father during her childhood. The situation escalated when her parents separated, and Caroline had to spend individual time with her father, exacerbating the emotional abuse. Caroline bravely recounts the profound impact this had on her development, leading to enduring mental health challenges, including conditions such as OCD and Depression.

“I don’t have vivid memories of when I was very young, but I remember at aged seven, my parents divorced. Mum had wanted to leave Dad for many years but was worried about how their separation would affect me and my younger Brother.

“Once they had separated, Dad tried to make things difficult. He refused to leave the house and went through the courts to get joint custody of us. Mum wanted me and my brother to have a good relationship with Dad, and we stayed with him on weekends.

“I felt happiest when I was with Mum. With her, things were normal. But Dad had a very short fuse. At any given moment, he could erupt. He would scream and scream at me until he was red in the face. His anger was directed at me and for the smallest of things. He would call me a useless and pathetic individual and tell me I was an idiot. It was terrifying and hurtful, and I would often burst into tears. I was very confused. He was my dad, and I trusted him; because of this, I felt like I must have done something to deserve him to treat me this way.

“I became anxious, never knowing when he might lose his temper and start the insults. Mum didn’t have any idea what was going on. I was too ashamed to tell her. Had she known, I know she would have stopped him and protected me.

“At age fourteen, I became more independent and avoided going to spend some weekends with Dad, instead choosing to spend them with friends. Despite this, I had problems sleeping and was having difficulties at school because I stopped working. As a child and during my teenage years, I completely shut down emotionally and felt genuinely unhappy. I constantly felt like I was trying to please my Dad, which meant I struggled to find my own way. I was terrified of failure and it stopped me from trying to do the things I really wanted to do.

“For many years, I didn’t realize the extent of what he’d done and how it was causing me so many problems. At age twenty-four, I began suffering with OCD and developed a fear of contamination. I washed and cleaned excessively as a way of reducing the anxiety I felt. OCD is something I continue to live with and recently spent some time in a residential treatment center. I have found my OCD worsens during times when I am particularly stressed.

“The effects of emotional abuse are devastating and can be lifelong. Throughout my adult life, I have suffered with episodes of depression. I have never been able to form lasting relationships. Because of my father’s behavior, I have never been able to trust males or allow myself to be vulnerable with them. I never reciprocate their feelings. I have put up a barrier from childhood which causes me to feel discomfort and anxiety within intimate relationships.

Thousands of children contact Childline for support, Harrow victim shares story Harrow Online
Image: NSPCC

“I hope that in sharing my story, it helps others in similar situations to mine to realize that if they are being treated this way, it’s wrong. I hope to encourage others to speak out and get help. People must be aware of the impact emotional abuse has on long-term mental health. NSPCC Helpline and Childline are able to support those experiencing abuse of any kind.”

In its new TV advert, the NSPCC highlights that, on average, a child will call Childline every 45 seconds, and for these children, Christmas can be the worst time of year. Alex Gray, a Service Head of Childline at its London base in Shoreditch, said: “Christmas should be a time of happiness and fun for all children, but at Childline, we know that sadly for many in the South East, it is a time full of fear, isolation, and increased risks. For lots of children, Childline is the only place they can turn to for help when they are trapped behind closed doors feeling scared and alone. In the run-up to this festive season, it is essential that the service continues to be here as a lifeline for those children who are in desperate need of support from our trained counsellors and those in immediate danger.”

To enable the charity to be there for all children this Christmas, the NSPCC is asking people across the country to Walk for Children on December 22, or another date that works for them. The 5K walk can be taken wherever the participant chooses and could be planned to pass a lit-up landmark.

The £10 sign-up fee includes an NSPCC t-shirt and fundraising pack in the post. Additionally, job site CV-Library will be donating £1 to Childline per new CV registered between December 11-17. The Childline service is here for children every day, even on Christmas Day. Children can contact Childline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. When a child needs help and Christmas means abuse, Childline is a lifeline, and it is vital that our counsellors are here and ready to listen and support children across the UK. Children can contact Childline on 0800 1111 or childline.org.uk.