When 17-year-old Srini Chadwaller* told his mother Tara* that he
had been sexually abused by a relative when he was 15, she was
extremely distressed and unsure what to do. She was terrified of
the shame it might bring on the family if she sought help because
of the stigma attached to talking about sexual abuse. She did not
even feel able to talk about it with people in her community, even
though she could only speak Punjabi.
Fortunately, Tara did have someone to turn to. She contacted the
national Asian child protection helpline and obtained the necessary
advice and support and in her own language.
Set up by the NSPCC in November 2001, this unique helpline aims
“to reach out to the south Asian community and be accessible to
anyone who may have any child welfare concerns,” says helpline
manager Owais Khan. “We provide advice, support, information and
counselling in the five main south Asian languages of Hindi, Urdu,
Bengali, Punjabi and Gujarati as well as in English. I believe that
south Asian children have as much right to be protected as other
children in the community.”
The generation gap is often more pronounced in families from
ethnic minority cultures and this can put an extra strain on the
family. “For example, children may learn British culture and norms
as they grow up, and yet seek the approval of parents and their
ethnic community whose values and beliefs may differ from these.
Conflicting views on sexual freedoms, forced marriages and not
allowing children to mix with their peers who are from other
cultural backgrounds are just some of the complex issues we have
given advice on,” says Khan. Indeed, last year the helpline held a
successful national conference on the subject of forced
Interestingly, more and more professionals are seeking advice on
cultural, religious and linguistic issues. Their enquiries make up
more than a third of all calls received. A further 10 per cent of
calls at the moment are coming from children themselves, with the
rest coming in from parents and carers, neighbours and members of
the public. In its first year the helpline received around 600
calls, but that has now risen to 2,000.
“We have found that we are bridging a very important gap between
professionals -Êincluding police, social workers, health
visitors, teachers, childminders, politicians, policy makers
-Êand the Asian communities. We are starting to make an impact
influencing people who manage teams and projects that deal with
Asian people and communities,” says Khan.
He says the helpline is raising awareness in south Asian
communities about acceptable behaviour and encouraging people to
bring up their children in a positive manner rather than chastising
them inappropriately. “We have also produced practice guidance on
issues pertinent to the south Asian community, and now have a
database of more than 450 Asian-specific organisations offering a
range of support including counselling,” he adds.
The helpline, which includes an e-mail service that has been
used by people who live in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, employs
five full-time and five part-time workers covering the main
languages involved. It also has a senior practitioner, a manager
and administration worker. The £400,000 running costs are
funded entirely by donations.
Khan says: “We are going from strength to strength and want to
reach out to as many people as possible. Callers feel more
comfortable talking to counsellors who have the same heritage and
culture. There are some words that won’t have an English
translation and it’s good to have somebody at the end of a phone
Tara Chadwaller would agree. She was given plenty of support,
including advice on what to do if her son had the courage to
whistleblow on the relative that perpetrated the abuse, keeping in
mind her concerns of family shame. And it is that sort of
understanding, knowledge and sensitivity in a caller’s preferred
language that has helped make the helpline a lifeline for many
people from south Asian communities.
*Not their real names
- The helpline number is 0800 096 7719 and is open weekdays from
11am to 7pm. E-mail service: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The helpline built networks and trust in Asian communities.
This was seen as essential to reassure people of confidentiality
and the professional and cultural advice available.
- There is a stigma attached to getting help. “We are helping to
break this down. We are reaching people with advice, information
and counselling who previously did not use services. We are helping
to bridge a gap that seems very much needed in the community and
the cause of misunderstanding and mistrust,” says Khan.
- It was important to get qualified staff on board.