Bonn · The 25-year-old counsellor Jule works for the Kinderschutzbund Bonn and tries to give tips and advice on the phone to those seeking help.
The child and youth helpline, where adolescents can call free of charge and anonymously, is a perennial favourite in pandemic times and is in great demand. The callers are increasingly plagued by fears about the future and describe depressive behaviour. Many of them feel that adults do not take them seriously and leave them alone, observe the volunteers of the Bonn Child Protection Association.
According to this, a surprisingly large number of young people clearly see the excessive demands of adults as the cause of this predicament. "It is therefore important that children and young people also have similar contact persons with whom they can exchange ideas," says psychologist Regina Kirchner-Bierschenk. She runs the Bonn branch of the child and youth helpline. Questions about sexuality, (mentally) ill parents and bullying in groups are perennial issues.
Children and young people who have been victims of (sexualised) violence are often very afraid to open up and confide in someone. Only a few address this directly in a phone call. "There are definitely topics that you don't want to discuss with an adult." This is another reason why young people between the ages of 16 and 27 always answer the phone on Saturdays. There are currently five counsellors in Bonn. Nine more young people are to join them by the summer. They are still being trained.
Conversation skills and self-awareness are at the core of the training
Jule (25) has been doing the voluntary telephone work for two years. She has just completed her Master's degree in psychology and will then work in a child and adolescent psychiatric ward. She has already gained practical experience in dealing with adolescents on the phone. "On the phone, I have been able to advise children and adolescents with their worries and problems and give them a bit of hope," Jule sums up her telephone service.
Some callers thanked her immediately and wanted to take the tips to heart. But that is not always the case, Jule explains. Some hang up and you don't know what happened to them. "Once I was on the phone with someone who was having a panic attack, breathing very hard and apparently also having seizures," Jule remembers. For the counsellor, this was a difficult situation because the calls come from all over Germany and you don't know where the caller is at the moment."You can then only try to change the situation with your words." The conversation lasted 90 minutes and with a lot of coaxing the situation improved. "You learn in the training how to deal with different reactions and how to use different techniques to get the person back," Jule explains.
All counsellors have to go through this training, which is offered by the Child and Youth Helpline, beforehand. The core of the training is conversation and self-awareness, says Kirchner-Bierschenk. Anyone between the ages of 16 and 27 can participate. However, participants must have qualities such as humour, composure and resilience, as well as the desire to get involved in age-specific topics. "You are also not allowed to go into the training with your own problems. We try to take this into account in the selection process," emphasises Kirchner-Bierschenk. After all, the telephone is supposed to give children and young people a chance to try things out without any consequences. "We also see ourselves as a bit of a sparring partner, where the callers can let out their emotions.“
500 enquiries and 16,000 mails in 2020
A total of 444,028 calls were received nationwide last year. These calls resulted in 97,046 counselling sessions (21.9 percent of all accepted calls), in which an intensive conversation was held with children and young people about their problems or issues. The largest share in 2020 was accounted for by the so-called "alternative contact attempts" (41.9 percent) and "hang-ups" (25.9 percent). Other categories such as silent calls together accounted for 10.3 percent. 13,689 online counselling sessions were also conducted. Last year, the Bonn team, which functions under the umbrella of the Child Protection Association, had taken about 4,500 telephone calls. The Corona pandemic has led to increased conflicts in families, observes Jule. But social isolation has also put a lot of strain on children and young people.
32.9 percent of all callers wanted to talk about "psychosocial/health issues". Kirchner-Bierschenk says it is striking that conversations about "sexuality" and "problems in the family" have swapped places. While in 2019 the topic of "sexuality" was still in second place with 21.4 percent, ahead of 16.3 percent on "difficulties in the family", in 2020 it was 24.3 percent on "problems in the family" and 22.3 percent on topics related to "sexuality". "This reflects the stress of the lockdown and the limited balance within the social group. Children and adolescents repeatedly expressed in the conversations that support from friends, teachers or sports buddies is currently not possible or only possible with great difficulty," describes the project manager.
At 60.8 percent, the majority of those seeking advice were male. In 2020, the Bonn team was able to answer just under 500 enquiries out of a total of 16,000 e-mails. With about 80 percent, female advice seekers were in the lead. Further information and online contact to the counsellors can be found here: nummergegenkummer.de.
Original text: Niklas Schröder
Translation: Mareike Graepel