What do children and young people tell Childline?

Nikki Vasco explains why qualitative and quantitative data about Childline’s counselling sessions is important and what we can learn from it

Child on mobile phone Our Childline service is there for children and young people online or on the phone, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It provides a safe space where they can get information and advice on different topics, share experiences with people their own age or have a free, confidential and non-judgmental chat with a counsellor.

We record information about what children and young people are telling Childline; the ages and genders of those who contact the service and how they get in touch and when. 

Our Knowledge and Information Service analyses this data so that we can understand and respond to the challenges facing children and young people. We publish several reports throughout the year to share this learning with practitioners.

I’m going to explain why our Childline data is so important and how it can be used to shape services for children and young people.


What data is available from Childline?

Childline provides us with quantitative data (statistics about the children who contact us and why) and qualitative data (the counsellors’ notes or transcripts from counselling sessions where young people tell us how a particular situation has affected their lives). When we’re interpreting this data we need to bear a few things in mind.

  • The data we collect from Childline counselling sessions doesn’t come from structured research – children and young people decide whether or not they want to contact Childline, how much they want to tell us about themselves and what they want to discuss.
  • We have over 1,400 volunteer counsellors. Although they are all trained to use our recording system, it would be impossible to get complete consistency in the way counselling sessions are recorded.
  • Childline is a confidential service and children contact us anonymously. So there are things the data can’t tell us – for example we don’t know how many counselling sessions a particular child has had. The statistics we provide are about the counselling sessions provided by Childline, not the number of children who contact Childline.

What we can learn from Childline data?

The data from Childline can give us a wealth of information. It offers a valuable insight into what children and young people really think and what challenges they face.

There are 3 key areas this information can be especially helpful to professionals.

1. Developing services
We’ve used Childline data to help us identify gaps in our services and target specific groups of vulnerable young people. For example, we know girls are more likely to talk to Childline than boys - and they are proportionately even more likely to talk to us about suicidal thoughts or feelings. But National statistics indicate that suicide affects more males than females. So we launched our Tough to Talk campaign in March 2017 to encourage more boys to speak out about mental health issues and stop suicidal thoughts and feelings from escalating. This was hugely successful - during the two-week campaign period there was a 137 per cent increase in counselling sessions for boys whose main concern was suicidal thoughts or feelings. We’re now investigating ways to build on the success of the campaign and make sure boys know we’re there to support them.

2. Young people’s perspectives
The qualitative data we collect from counselling sessions enables us to understand how young people are affected by particular situations or risk factors. In this year’s annual review for example, we’ve focussed on what children and young people who have special educational needs, are d/Deaf, disabled or have a health condition talk to Childline about. Our analysis provides evidence on how challenging it can be for this group of young people to make their voices heard - and how other people’s reactions to their disability are often more difficult to deal with than the disability itself. Disabled young people told us they often feel overprotected, they can be left out of activities and that their teachers don’t always know how to talk to them. It’s really important for us to share this information so that professionals are more aware of the issues young people are raising. There may be simple steps we can all take to solve these problems – in this case making activities more accessible and ensuring we take time to talk to and listen to young people with disabilities.

3. What works to help children and young people
Young people often tell our counsellors what coping strategies they find most helpful when dealing with particular challenges. For example young people who talked to us about anxiety this year said they find breathing exercises, creative activities and positive affirmations helpful. We want to share this information with practitioners so they can use it to inform their work.

Overview

The qualitative and quantitative data we collect from Childline gives us a unique overview of the worries and concerns hundreds of thousands of children and young people talk to us about. This can be used as part of the evidence base for developing effective support for children and young people.

Download Not alone anymore: Childline annual review 2016/17

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References

  1. 67 per cent of all Childline counselling sessions in 2016/17 were with girls, 17 per cent were with boys and in 16 per cent gender was unknown. NSPCC (2017) Not alone anymore: Childline annual review 2016/17

  2. 72 per cent of counselling sessions about suicidal thoughts or feelings in 2016/17 were with girls, 14 per cent with boys and in 14 per cent gender was unknown. NSPCC (2017) Not alone anymore: Childline annual review 2016/17

  3. Office for National Statistics (2017) Suicides in the UK, 10 to 19 year olds, deaths registered 2001 to 2015. [Accessed 27/07/2017].

  4. There were 192 counselling sessions for boys whose main concern was suicidal thoughts or feelings during the Tough to Talk campaign in March 2017, compared with 81 sessions in the same period in 2016. NSPCC (2017) Not alone anymore: Childline annual review 2016/17