“Being a teenager has never been easy, and, from all our research, it seems to be getting more difficult every year”. So says Janet, Director of Child Power UK. Helping Hand, a new service for thirteen- to nineteen-year-olds, is her brainchild. “I realized that there was lots of help at hand for young people in extreme difficulty. They can ring ChildLine, for example, if they’re suffering from bullying or have run away from home, things like that, but nothing for the more everyday problems they face. And so I created Helping Hand to fill the gap.”
The concept is simple. A teenage boy feels embarrassed every time he goes shopping with his mum. Someone is jealous of their best friend because they’ve got a cool new mobile phone. Who do they turn to? Helping Hand.
They’re little things, yes,” says Janet, “but they often don’t feel little to the person in that situation. All problems need to be sorted out and talked about. We provide a 24-hou free service to do two main things – listen sympathetically, and often advice where appropriate”.
Since its introduction two months ago, Helping Hand has already dealt with over 1,000 cases. “if you’re a teenager, you can contact us in three main ways,” says Janet. There’s a free number you can call or you can send us an email and we’ll get back to you within half an hour. Many people like that option because it’s direct but at the same time they feel comfortable. We’re also planning to introduce a service soon that allows teenagers with similar problems to talk to each other online”.
There are five full-time helping Hand counselors at present, all trained in child psychology and counseling. One of the team, Jenny, described her work. “it’s a great feeling being able to make a difference to someone’s life,” says Jenny. “This morning, for example, I helped one teenager who was really upset because none of her friends at school had remembered her birthday. And there was a fifteen-year-old boy who had seen the film Billy Elliot and wanted to start doing ballet, but was afraid of what his father would say. He’s going to make his dad watch the film before to him about it.”
Helping Hand doesn’t claim to be able to solve every problem. “We can’t work miracles,” says Andrew Carter, another counselor, “and we can’t make all problems disappear just like that but Helping Hand gives kids the chance to express their frustrations and anxieties. I had a teenager the other day who had just split up with his girlfriend. He didn’t want to talk to anyone in his family about it, and his friends just joked about it when he brought the subject up. He really only need somebody to listen to him. And that’s what we’re there for”.
“Sometimes, says Jenny, “there are issues we just can’t deal with at all. We’re not health professionals, so there’s no way we can discuss medical problems. And last week someone sent me an email asking if I knew where they could buy a cheap second-hand digital camera. We don’t really have answers to questions like that!”
“Helping Hand has been such a success, though,” says Janet, “that a number of other charities are looking into ways of running similar services for older people. It’s not just teenagers that have problems. And it really does help to talk. Who knows? Maybe we’ll all be using a service like this in the future!”