It’s good to talk things over

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Giving up your valuable spare time to help others can be incredibly rewarding says one Edinburgh volunteer with Parentline Scotland

The caller at the end of the line was so upset she was incoherent.

But as I spoke to her, she began to calm, and slowly her story unravelled and her anxiety became clear.

Her partner had recently left home and her 15-year-old daughter had started staying out all night. She was worried that she was taking drugs – and taking money from her purse. She was distraught because she felt her child was withdrawing from her, and when she tried to speak to her about it, she just became angry.

So we talked about ways to open up communication. We discussed how the caller could tell her daughter of her own fears and encourage her to talk about any anxieties she had about exams or friendships, as well as how she felt about her dad leaving.

During the call she realised that she was grieving for the loss of the close relationship she previously had with her daughter and also for the loss of the relationship with her partner. This realisation seemed to turn her around. At the end of the call she was calmer and more focused. She even laughed.

She now had a plan to make time to spend with her daughter, providing an opportunity to not only enjoy each other’s company but to just talk. She knew it was just the start but was ready to face change.

This is one of the hundreds of calls I’ve had since I began volunteering with ParentLine Scotland, a free helpline and email service run by CHILDREN 1ST for parents, carers or anyone concerned about a child.

When the phone rings in the call room I have no idea what the caller might say. No matter how big or small their issue may seem to the outside world, it is important to them and we are there to listen, support and offer advice in a non-judgemental and supportive way.

I joined ParentLine Scotland more than five years ago. Having some free time each week, I wanted to use it to help others in a voluntary capacity.

For me, it was about offering one-to-one support in some way, for others volunteering is very different in terms of what time they can offer and what skills they already have. I had not actually heard of ParentLine until I looked into Childline training. Childline didn’t have a call centre in Edinburgh but suggested ParentLine Scotland. I haven’t looked back.

I’ve spoken to people who are worried about their toddler’s tantrums, concerned about bullying at school or on the internet, or upset because they are not getting access to their child following a recent divorce or separation. I’ve had calls from parents who are struggling to cope with family life due to unemployment and very little financial support, from grandparents worried about their grandchildren having to care for their siblings as well as look after an ill mum. People bring a broad range of concerns and issues. We listen to and support them all.

Being a call-taker can often be challenging – calls can raise very difficult issues and sometimes callers may be very distressed or angry or just stuck in their own situation.

However, the intense and excellent training we all receive provides us with the skills we need to encourage callers to talk openly about their anxieties without making judgements or assumptions and enables us to offer suggestions about a possible way forward.

The group I trained with were from all different walks of life, with varying ages and everyone brought a wealth of skills – one thing we all had in common was that we wanted to support people to support children.

Going on call for the first time was daunting. However, I was fully supported by a skilled supervisor and indeed the other call-takers. The call room has a great atmosphere where you feel safe to raise any concerns. We continually learn from listening to others on a call and that evolving process is very enriching. And there is always some humour, which makes it a really good working environment.

I have learned so much since I became a volunteer call-taker with ParentLine Scotland, not only increasing my skills in supporting others but also learning a lot about myself.

I think becoming a call-taker has enabled me to utilise skills I already had, to fine-tune them and to learn so many more. There are also lots of opportunities to do further training as a volunteer. It has been a challenging and rewarding experience where I’ve met and spoken to so many fantastic people. We want everyone to know about our service and use it whenever they feel anxious or concerned about a child or just want someone to talk to.

But as this week is National Volunteer Week, which celebrates the hours and contribution many people give to society on a voluntary basis, I hope that even more people are inspired to give some of their time to volunteering in whatever way suits them best.

KEEPING KIDS SAFE

National Volunteers Week runs this week, and organisations and groups across Scotland will hold parties and award ceremonies to thank their volunteers, and to highlight the contribution the make to local groups and the wider community.

People are also encouraged to use this week to find out more about volunteering and the tremendous benefits it contributes to society. More information can be found on www.vds.org.uk.

ParentLine Scotland can be contacted on 08000 28 22 33 or by e-mailing parentlinescotland@children1st.org.uk.

If you would like to volunteer with ParentLine or any of CHILDREN 1ST’s other services please contact 0131-446 2300.

CHILDREN 1ST provides local services across Scotland as well as national services including ParentLine Scotland and a kinship care helpline. For more information about the charity worKs to keep children safe in Scotland, visit www.children1st.org.uk.