TSTT supports the launch of CHILDLINE’s new National Student Hotline. New “131” hotline easier for children to remember

Trinidad - Upon reviewing the case of four year old, Amy Annamunthodo who was abused for years before being murdered, Justice Monica Barnes suggested that a facility be created for abused children to be able to call for help. Mary Moonan, Program Coordinator for Childline says that is exactly what the new National Student Hotline is. The service was launched on September 3rd in collaboration with technology partner TSTT.

Camille Salandy TSTT’s Head of Public Relations and External Affairs explained that TSTT renewed and expanded support for Childline with the launch of the National Students Hotline. “131 is the new easy to remember hotline that gives 24/7 toll free access to professional support for getting children away from harmful environments.” Salandy explained that the access number allowed young people to call from a mobile even if it has no credit or from a public phone without having to deposit any coins. “TSTT is pleased to be part of this solution in partnership with the Childline NGO and supporting government ministries to bring relief to neglected or abused children."

The Cabinet approved hotline is for the benefit of students from pre-school level all the way up to the tertiary level. Moonan points out that it can also be used by adults who witness child abuse and want to alert the authorities discreetly. The new three digit shortcode , 1-3-1, makes it is easy to remember says Moonan. “For the young children in particular, 1-3-1 is much easier to remember than 800-4321. Internationally, all the helplines worldwide are moving toward three digit numbers so that children can remember them easily.”

Moonan explains that the use of the service is simpler than making traditional calls, expressing the hope that this will encourage more children to make contact with them. In 2009, Childline received over 15,000 calls, the majority were from females and Childline volunteers provided counselling to 95 percent of all callers. The other calls were either requests for information or had to be refered to other specialists for attention.

TSTT is one of the several partners that Moonan’s organisation is aligned to. She admits that they rely heavily on a number of social service agencies and as such have inherited all their challenges. Still, she is adamant that collaboration is necessary.

“In this line of work it is not a question of independence. It is very much a network of services where sometimes, two, three or four different stakeholders have to be involved to provide care and protection for a child. It is not something that any one agency can work on its own. The magnitude of work means that Childline is still looking for additional partners. Moonan is making a call for greater corporate responsibility and encourages those who hear her message to become involved. In some cases, intervention has become a matter of life and death.

Citing among the most prevalent calls, issues of violence and anger management, the Childline Coordinator also tells tales of woeful neglect, “You will be surprised that there are parents who leave young children unattended for long periods of time, “ she says, “it could be days and neighbours will call us and say the children are screaming and crying. The mother has left the house...there is no one to feed them.” In response Moonan’s team has contacted social workers and at times police to remove the children to safety. She says abuse is also fairly common, categorising calls about physical and sexual abuse as an increasing problem.

Abuse is not the only growing concern; exam stress is now being ranked as one of the more common threats to the health and comfort of the nation’s children. Moonan says that absenteeism in teachers combined with a heavy syllabus, “lowers their self esteem”, in particular because she has found that many students pass though the education system and remain functionally illiterate. In response children are known to act out. “They become very angry. They can be violent. They find that life is not worth living.” The National Student Hotline seeks to provide children in need with an outlet for expression, sympathy and direction.

“We don’t tell them what to do,” Moonan says, “we listen, that is our main function. We want to give them an avenue to vent, to talk about their problems and we are non-judgemental. If there are special needs, we refer them to those special areas where they can get help.”

The most recent collaboration between, Childline and TSTT will result, Moonan hopes, in an increase in another type of call, a type of call that Childline has received in the past and is always eager to get.

“They do call us back...and quite often they call us back to say thank you, thank you for helping us. We encourage them to call us back whenever they need us.”