More than 600 children in Scotland have had counselling sessions delivered by Childline over the past year, where they have spoken about the abuse they have suffered or are experiencing.
As the Christmas school holidays are fast approaching the charity is gearing up to keep its 13 Childline bases open 24/7 over the festive period, so they can be there whenever a child chooses to disclose.
When children talk about the sexual, emotional, physical or domestic abuse affecting them for the first time with Childline counsellors, often the same emotions and feelings are described which include shame, being scared, or worried they were the ones that had done something wrong.
Others shared they didn’t know how to tell adults in their life.
In the last year, the counselling service run by the NSPCC, has also seen a 20% increase in the number of children under 11 being counselled for sexual abuse, when compared to the year before, and more boys revealing online sexual abuse – 45% more than the year before.
Last December a 12-year-old girl from Scotland told a Childline counsellor: “There is a lot of trouble in my house and I want it to stop. Mum and dad are always shouting, fighting and dad hits mum. Dad smashed the house up today and I was sent upstairs, but I could hear everything. I could hear mum crying – none of this is her fault. I want him to go. Everyone says, ‘Happy Christmas’ but mine was horrible.”
A 16-year-old girl from Scotland also revealed: “My mum’s been really abusive with me lately and I can’t imagine spending the Christmas holidays with her. I need to focus on revising for my mock exams during the school break, but I know this won’t be possible in such a toxic environment.
“She makes me feel like a burden and threatens to kick me out if I get out of line. I’ve tried telling her how she makes me feel, but she just deflects it and makes me feel guilty for bringing it up. I don’t know how I’ll cope and I worry for my mental health.”
The UK’s children charity, NSPCC has released its latest Childline data about abuse as it launches its ‘Be here for children’ Christmas appeal, which shows why it is vitally important Childline stays open over the festive period, as statutory services close down.
The charity is growing increasingly concerned to see the number of children needing support, in particular for abuse and neglect, when the system is struggling to cope, and the cost-of-living crisis will likely leave more families needing help.
Last year, Police Scotland recorded more than 5,500 crimes of child sexual abuse.
The NSPCC says this data underlines the importance of the Scottish Government making child protection a national priority in 2023.
Amber (not her real name) was sexually abused by a family member when she was nine years old, but is now working with the NSPCC to raise awareness of child abuse and the importance of speaking out.
She said: “Christmas was just another day to me, and I resented it. It’s a time usually considered for family and celebration. But for me, it felt like a very dark and lonely place, and ultimately, it meant having to spend time with my abuser.”
While she can’t remember why she decided to call Childline at the time and speak out about the abuse she was experiencing, she knew she needed someone to help her.
“I couldn’t find the words to tell my mum. But Childline finally made me feel like someone understood. When you disclose, the one big fear is that no one will believe you,” she said, “But the counsellors I spoke to were so empathetic, helpful, and kind. They knew I was telling the truth. And they gave me that bravery, that reassurance that people would believe me, and that I was doing the right thing by speaking out.”
In its new TV advert, the NSPCC highlights that on average, two children a minute contact Childline.
The advert is based on real calls from children. Through three seemingly ordinary family scenes at Christmas we see what’s really going on for the children, with stories of loss, domestic abuse, and sexual abuse.
Dame Esther Rantzen, founder of Childline said: “I truly believe Childline is the fourth emergency service for children. We are there when children disclose abuse, we are there when they are feeling suicidal, we are there 24/7 when others aren’t.
“Our service relies heavily on volunteers and donations to be here for children, and like everyone else we are starting to feel the effects of the cost of living.
“Every minute, two children will contact us, and its vital no call goes unanswered, particularly over Christmas when most services close leaving those children who are struggling isolated and scared.
“It is essential that Childline is here as a vital lifeline for those children and that they can get the help they need and deserve even on Christmas day.”
Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC, said: “The Christmas holidays can be one of the most difficult times of the year for children, and they often need somewhere to go to confide. It is vitally important they know that Childline is here for them throughout the holidays to provide free and confidential help and advice.
“It is crucial that everyone recognises they have a part to play when it comes to keeping children safe from abuse, including the government. 2022 has been a year where the importance of child protection has come to the forefront, 2023 needs to be the year of meaningful change.”