Psychologists at the University of Birmingham are working with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) to help the charity in its response to children who are at risk of suicide.
The NSPCC has funded a research programme at the university that will enable experts to explore the best way to provide effective help and support to children who contact the charity through its Childline service.
Childline was launched in 1986 and offers its services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year through telephone, email, and instant messaging. It also has web and social media tools to engage with children and young people and to deliver counselling and support.
The charity reports a steady increase in the number of contacts about mental health and suicide. The partnership with the Institute for Mental Health and the Centre for Applied Psychology at the University of Birmingham has been set up in response to this.
Shaun Friel, head of Childline, said: ‘Over the past 30 years since Childline started, the topics children and young people seek support about from our staff and volunteer counsellors has changed. We want to make sure that we are learning from current research and good practice to provide the best support possible to those accessing our services.’
Over a focused three-month period, the team will review existing policies and practices and will carry out focus groups and interviews with frontline staff. The aim is to ensure that Childline’s ability to assess and respond to suicide risk is informed by the best available evidence. It also aims to ensure staff and volunteers have the best possible skills and have the confidence to provide advice and support and to make referrals, where appropriate, to other frontline services.
Dr Maria Michail, senior Birmingham fellow in the Institute for Mental Health at the University of Birmingham, says: ‘We know that mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, are increasing among young people. Suicide rates among people under 25 are also increasing. The NSPCC does vital work in providing support to thousands of young people each year and we are looking forward to supporting them as they seek to adapt and improve their service.’
The programme will also draw on working practices of other charities worldwide, to explore other examples of best practice adopted by organisations operating helpline services for children and young people.
All the evidence will be drawn together into a programme of co-production workshops with NSPCC staff, members of the research team, and members of a youth advisory group to devise a series of best-practice approaches for the charity.
Dr Juliane Kloess, lecturer in forensic psychology in the Centre for Applied Psychology at the University of Birmingham, says: ‘We hope that by drawing together this comprehensive review of best practice, we will be able to ensure that Childline can meet the changing demands on its services and remain a vital and relevant service for children and young people in crisis.’