Childline have revealed reveal it has seen almost 400 children in Scotland getting in touch due to worries over Coronavirus (COVID-19), with about three quarters of the contacts in the latter three weeks.

The 390 counselling sessions have been held between the end of January, when the first cases of coronavirus were identified in the UK, and April 8. A large proportion of the sessions have taken place since the Scottish Government announced social distancing rules, schools’ shutdown and the lockdown in close succession.

Since the end of January, there have been 2,200 counselling sessions with children across the UK about the issue, with 1,700 contacts since measures were announced.

In more than half of the contacts, Children talked about concerns over their mental or emotional health.

Despite Childline having to close the night service for the first time and having a 30% drop in volunteer hours, due to counsellors having to self-isolate, it’s battling to still be there for children across the UK.

Kat McMahon, a volunteer counsellor at Glasgow’s Childline base, said: “At the moment, young people are contacting us with the same kinds of concerns as they usually do, such as family arguments, sexual abuse and suicidal thoughts but everything seems amplified. On top of their existing anxieties about what it is happening in their lives, they are now struggling with the anxiety around the lockdown and Covid. Some have fears about their families catching the virus and many are struggling being away from school and their friends.

“For children living in homes where physical, emotional or sexual abuse is happening – there is now no escape for them. We hear from some young people who say they feel trapped because they cannot leave the house.”

Dave Black, a volunteer counsellor at Aberdeen’s Childline base, said: “At the moment, young people are not getting their usual support in the community, with the closure of many public services, and we are hearing how this is impacting on them and causing distress.

“This situation is challenging for anyone but if you are already struggling it can be extremely difficult. Children are saying they are missing school – for some, school is their safe place and where they get support and fed.

“Some of these young people don’t have anyone to talk to and Childline is absolutely critical for them to be able to share and get some support.”

The NSPCC, which runs Childline, is growing increasingly concerned about the number of children who will experience abuse or neglect due to the impact of Coronavirus.

During the past week Childline has delivered 363 counselling sessions across the UK where children have experienced physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect – up nearly a fifth from the week before. Counselling sessions about physical and emotional abuse increased by 36% and 31% respectively during this time.

A 15-year-old girl told Childline: “I am not happy at home. My parents are physically abusing me – it’s happening quite often now since schools closed and I’m really scared. They hit me and often it leaves me with bruises. I really want to get out of the house and be somewhere safe and happy. I’m scared that my parents will get angry and hurt me more if I tell someone.”

In the past few weeks Childline has heard from children whose parents have lost their jobs and are under growing financial pressure, as well as from young carers struggling to look after their siblings whilst their parents fall sick with Coronavirus symptoms. Childline is also hearing from children who have had suicidal thoughts and talk about feeling trapped and isolated.

To continue to support children during this challenging period, and to adapt to the ever-changing situation, the NSPCC has launched its emergency appeal ‘We’re still here for children’.

The NSPCC is urging the public to visit its website and donate £10 to help fund vital services like Childline, so the charity can continue to answer calls and be here for the young people who desperately need someone to talk to, especially when home isn’t a safe place.

To support the appeal, the NSPCC has launched a new TV ad which features a Childline counsellor talking after a shift about the vital importance of the service.

Peter Wanless, CEO of NSPCC, said: “At this uncertain time when children’s lives have changed so dramatically the NSPCC needs to be there as a reassuring voice for those worried about their children and for the most vulnerable in our society.

“Sadly, we know that for many children, home isn’t a safe place and they need our Childline counsellors more than ever. This is the greatest challenge we’ve faced in decades and we are calling on the support of the public to help us ensure we can still be here for children.”

Dame Esther Rantzen, Founder of Childline, said: “The world is an unfamiliar and very frightening place for thousands of children across the UK at the moment. We know that school no longer provides the sanctuary it once did and many young people are having to face unprecedented challenges at home without the vital support networks that normally surround them. Childline is more crucial than ever as a safe way children can reach out for help. We really are, as one volunteer counsellor told me, the fourth emergency service.

“Now more than ever we must continue to be there for the young people who desperately need us, no matter what. We don’t know what other challenges lie ahead, but we want to be prepared to weather any storm so that we can be there for children. That is why we are urging the public to get behind our very important emergency appeal and donate £10 so that we can provide essential support.”

By Ricky Kelly

Main writer for Renfrewshire News