Thousands of children disclose abuse for the first time when speaking to Childline

Childline is here for children 24/7, even on Christmas Day, and it’s common for children to confide in Childline about abuse for the first time during December and January. 


Over the past year our Childline service has delivered 15,515 counselling sessions where children have spoken about the abuse they have suffered or are experiencing1

In the last year, our Childline service has also seen:

  • 2,267 of those counselling sessions children revealed abuse for the first time, ever. Of these, a fifth of disclosures took place during December 2021 and January 2022, with the youngest child just nine years old2
  • a 20% increase in the number of children under 11 being counselled for sexual abuse, when compared to the year before3
  • more boys revealing online sexual abuse – 45% more than the year before4.

As the Christmas school holidays are fast approaching, we will keep our 13 Childline bases open 24/7 over the festive period, so we 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 our Childline counsellors, often the same emotions and feelings are described. These 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.

Last December a girl aged 15 told a Childline counsellor:


“My stepfather abuses me and makes me do nasty things. 

When he drinks he comes into my bedroom and makes me do things to please him. 

When he is sober he just hits me. I have not told anyone else about this and I am feeling really depressed and scared.”

And a 12-year-old girl revealed:


“I feel scared and stuck. There is a lot of trouble in my house at Christmas and I want it to stop.

Mum and Dad are always shouting, fighting and dad hits mum. My 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. I haven’t told anyone else what’s happened during these school holidays because I feel so scared and worried about what my dad will do next.”

With the cost-of-living crisis likely to leave more families needing help with Winter, we’re concerned to see the number of children needing support - in particular for abuse and neglect - when the the system struggles to cope

Last year, there were more than 89,200 reports of child sexual abuse recorded by police forces in England and Wales– and this is why we’re urging Government to make 2023 the year that child protection is made a national priority.

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Amber (not her real name) was sexually abused by a family member when she was 9 years old. She’s been working with us 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.”

Amber can’t remember why she decided to call Childline and speak out about the abuse she was experiencing, but 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. 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.”

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 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.”


  1. 1. Between April 2021 and March 2022, Childline delivered 15,515 counselling sessions about abuse (including emotional, physical, sexual or domestic abuse and neglect). In 15% (n=2,267) of these counselling sessions, the young person told us that Childline was the first place they'd spoken about their problem.

  2. 2. Of the 2,267 counselling sessions where children revealed abuse for the first time; 441 sessions took place during December 2021 and January 2022 (19%).

  3. 3. In 2021/22, Childline delivered 324 counselling sessions with young people aged 11 and under about sexual abuse/exploitation (excluding online). This was an increase of 20% compared to 2020/21, when the figure was 270.

  4. 4. In 2021/22, Childline delivered 362 counselling sessions with boys about online sexual abuse/exploitation. This was an increase of 45% compared to 2020/21, when the figure was 249.