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Introducing Childlines to School-Children: A Way of Prevention

Tomáš Řiháček, sborník z mezinárodní konference dětských linek 6. - 8. března 2003 v Bratislavě

Good morning, dear colleagues,foto-sborník

I would like to say a few words about a prevention programme we have developped in Modrá linka, the Centre and Helpline for Children and Youth, which resides in Brno in the Czech Republic. Apart from standard phone counselling and crisis intervention we also offer some other services, like educational and prevetive programmes. This one, I am going to speak about, is suited for 9- or 10-year-old children and has been partialy inspired by the book Keeping Safe by Michele Elliott. It has several aims:

  1. To let children know about our existence. We have visiting-cards printed and we distribute them to all elementary schools in our city.
  2. To show children how a childline works. Speaking about what happens when they call us and what they can expect from us reduces natural anxiety. It is also advisable to mention the limitations of a helpline.
  3. To activate children, that means to show them what they themselves can do in various dangerous, undesirable or unpleasant situations.
    The programme lasts 2 lessons and has a more or less fixed structure, which may, however, vary in response to children's needs, e.g. when a specific problem appears in the class. Usually, we ask the teacher to leave us alone with children so that they can be more spontaneous, and they often reveal what they are worried about. But the absence of the teacher is not a necessity. We always start with introducing our helpline and explaining the basic principles, like anonymity, taking all problems seriously or keeping the shared information secret, etc.

As we want to find out what the prevailing topics in the class are, we ask children to write down "What they think children may be worried about" – a projective question. Then we generalize the responses to an overview of what can be a subject of a call. Children thus realize that in many situations, when they feel helpless, they can share the problem with other people, who listen to them. And it is also important for an, for example, abused child to know that he or she is not the only one who suffers this, and is not alone to bear all the despair. This is also a good opportunity to explain or specify some terms, like bullying or sexual harassment. Children often use those terms in a vague meaning and it is certainly useful for them to distinguish between a non-serious play and a harmful deed, classified as a crime. They should be in some way aware of the rights they have.

The next item of the programme is called „dangerous situations“ and consists of 3 to 5 situations which are potentially dangerous to children and which are chosen in respect to the previous mapping results. Some of the most frequent are "someone is ringing at the door and I am alone at home", "someone forces me to touch his body and his private parts", "an unknown man on the street offers me sweets", or "I must give my food and money to my schoolmates, othewise they thrash me". Our questions are "Why can this be dangerous?" and "What would you do?". Our way is not to give a lecture but to make it as interactive as possible, explaining why some solutions are more suitable than others. We want children to realize more ways how to react in certain situations, so that they are not shocked and paralysed, but they can actively evaluate the situation and choose the best solution. And as one minute of practice is often more effective than one hour of speaking, we sometimes want children to train practically some specific kinds of reactions, e.g. how to refuse a sweet or how to say "no" to an intrusive person.

Then there is another issue, the Hand of Help, the purpose of which is to create a list of people, whether familiar or yet unknown, who can help in dangerous, difficult or unpleasant situations. Children again first give their own ideas and we write them down on the blackboard, dividing them into five groups - five fingers of the Hand. In the end, we add the rest, but usually we do not have to. The five categories are the following:

The Hand of Help: Children's Social Net
Family Non-relatives School Professionals Emergency
parents friends teachers helpline police
siblings trustworthy person school porter (psychiatrist) ambulance
others (in danger) cook etc. social worker  
      crisis centre  

The idea is that everyone has at least one person to turn on in case of need, and that it is not reasonable to stay alone and keep all the suffering for oneself. It is important for children to have at least one teacher at school, to whom they can confide.

The last part of the programme is perhaps the most attractive one. It is a kind of game, in which children are divided into groups of 5 to 8, and each group becomes a helpline. They receive a short writen story describing a problem of a child of their age, and they are encouraged to try to help. At this time, they have to think as helpline workers, and thus they learn a bit about the way we work and the resources and limitations we have. And we hope, this all both increases children’s ability to solve problematic situations themselves and encourages them to dial our number to ask for help. After the groups have finished their work, we ask them one by one to read the story and their own answer or advise. Then we summarize the answer, and if something important is missing, we mention it, too.

Some of the stories are more serious, others are not so major. The choise is again based on what comes up during the previous activities. An expample of such a story may be this: "Hello, my name’s George and I’m 9 years old. It bothers me that my friends laugh at me. I’m ginger and what more, I’m a bit fat. I can’t run with my friends and do any sport. My mum tells me I shouldn’t worry about it, but I’m so unhappy. What should I do?" And children give answers like "Don’t care", "You’re good in this and that, none is perfect", "You can tell them what you mind about them", or "Start running or doing some sport and you’ll slim down", or they say "Try to be very good in something else than in sport".

This way we can address the problems in the class but, on the other hand, some children do not wish us to touch some of the actual problems. And of course, we have to respect this, as some problems are simply not ready to be solved.

As far as we can judge, children like this programme very much. But of course, the level of children’s cooperation varies from class to class and depends on social maturity of the individuals and on the collective of a class. Also an increasing number of schools are interested and ask us to come. This school year we received applications from 17 schools, that means 57 classes, and this is more than 1000 children.

We feel that in the short time of two lessons we can not manage to reach all the goals mentioned above, and the lack of space lets us only presume the potential of such programmes, but still we do believe, it is worth devoting the effort. Even though the only feedback we receive is an increase in the number of calls.


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