30 years of ChildLine

Neelam Heera from Irwin Mitchell interviews Esther Rantzen


 1. Before setting up ChildLine did you realise how big the problem was?  

I was beginning too. I remember the moment clearly, we launched after one of the programs I made. We had been talking about child abuse and there were a lot of children watching. It occurred to me that we may have children suffering amongst our audience so we opened a special helpline for them. The helpline was jammed for 48 hours, most of the calls concerned sexual abuse.

The fact they could now ring the helpline and talk anonymously without any judgment or blame, gave them a feeling of hope. That helpline we closed down after 48 hours, but I thought then if around 100 children had gotten through on those helplines in 48 hours how many more needed that sort of help. We then did a survey asking adult viewers of that’s life if they had experienced cruelty. We had thousands of hand written records of people describing abuse, and what they tried to do and who they told because ¾ told somebody but it was usually a school friend. A tiny minority were helped, but this help either made no difference or made things worse.

 2. How do you look back on the journey of childLine?  

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread – I suppose that when I come across an obstacle and I am going down a path that is important if I’m stopped, and ill a way around it and by telling stories of children who have been abused and talking about the issues on popular BBC TV programs, even judges who are usually above television who picked this up and ran with it. Maybe we kicked the door open but others joined us in this fight.

 3. So what do you do?  

What ChildLine does is listen, and what ChilLline says is:

(a) This is not your fault

(b) We together can find a way to change this and make you safe. What ChildLine does not do contact the police or social services take the child away. The only time we bring in other agencies is when either a child has asked us too or their life is at risk.

 4. What types of calls does ChildLine deal with?  

We work within the family to alert the family, stop the abuse and make the child safe but not bring catastrophe to that family and I think it’s quite important that Asian families understand that. If an Asian child reports abuse to us, we will keep that confidential unless the child’s life is at risk for example we will NOT keep an honour killing confidential. We don’t want to put a child in great danger.

 5. How important is it for you to engage within the ethnic community?  

Very. For example when I have spoken to Asian audiences about abuse, very often they say, “we are very lucky” as it doesn’t happen to our kids. But at the same time I have received emails and letters from young children in the Asian community who tell me it’s happened to them. So what you have, is a real difficulty to ask for help and a real reluctance from the community to acknowledge the problem. I always believe the only way to solve a problem is to recognise there is one.

The image I have of Asian families being vibrant warm, not allowing older people to be isolated, looking after the family members of which have High intelligence and ambition. But I have to recognize in every community there are individuals who may or may not care about children or protect them and some who are dangerous to them.

Abuse in different community’s is not unique, because people still want to commit crimes against children, trying to get access to these children in such a way that no one would question them for example, if they are teacher, judges, priests, religious workers they are less likely to be questioned. The idea that they may be child abusers is unacceptable in the community. So you get people who have unquestionable authority and they are power corrupt.

Minority communities need to understand there are dangers, but there is also support. I believe that we need to remind people they can reach out for help safely and this is not going to bring shame or catastrophe on the community.

 6. Do you think the internet and social media has made things worse?  

Yes, I think it’s provided ways in which children can be groomed in the conference. Grooming doesn’t take place outside shopping malls or chip show anymore, it’s online.

 7. Do you have a final message for parents and children?  

ChildLine 0800 11 11 or Online is ALWAYS there. My Children have used it so no parent needs to be afraid of it, as it actually provides support for children when the need it most.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here