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20 Years, 20 Voices: Børns Vilkår, Denmark

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2023 marks the 20th Anniversary of Child Helpline International. To celebrate this momentous occasion, we invited some of our members – from all around the world, founding members and members who have recently joined us – to share their stories in a special series.

BØRNS VILKÅR – DENMARK

Børns Vilkår was founded in 1977 by journalist Frode Muldkjær, pediatrician Svend Heinild, social worker Tine Bryld and children’s librarian Jan Tøth. At the time, the overall purpose of the organization was to abolish the right to reprimand – i.e. the right of parents to hit children – and they succeeded in 1997.

Severe budget cuts that happened at Rigshospitalet (Central Hospital in Copenhagen) in 1987 resulted in the clinic’s manager, Joav Merrick, establishing the Child Helpline in St. Lukas Stiftelsen (hospice, elderly house and kindergarten organization), which made an apartment in Copenhagen available to Børns Vilkår free of charge. BørneTelefonen (Child Helpline) has now grown to over 800 volunteer counsellors with a background in child welfare.

From the beginning, the vision was to listen to, involve and bring children’s voices to politicians. Today, we know that far too many children in Denmark are alone with their problems. Børns Vilkår fights to ensure that no child in Denmark is neglected: neither by their closest adults nor by society.

BørneTelefonen (Child Helpline) in Denmark is much more than a telephone

BørneTelefonen (Child Helpline) is now open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. It’s the children’s line for advice, solace or just talking with an adult who has time to listen to their concerns, big or small. Children make use of it when friendships spark or when falling in love is too confusing; or for when parental divorce is gut-wrenching or when children have been so cruelly neglected they can barely get a word out. Younger children are helped via Forældretelefonen (the Parents’ Helpline).

At BørneTelefonen , children can get counselling from volunteer adults with a background in child welfare by phone, text message, chat or in our Brevkasse (Mailbox). Our counsellors can also offer a professional bisidder (accompanying person) for children who contact BørneTelefonen and need help to be heard when dealing with the public administration. 

Children and young people can also get and give good advice and help to each other on our digital space “Børn Hjælper Børn” (Children Helping Children), within easier issues such as love, friendships, leisure activities, etc.  

International co-operation makes a big difference for the world’s children and young people

When many Ukrainian families had to flee the war, it was inspiring to see so many child helplines in Europe stepping up to help, listen and talk to the many Ukrainian children, young people and their parents.

When La Strada in Ukraine reached out to Europe’s child helplines, Børns Vilkår Director Rasmus Kjeldahl in Denmark said: ‘The Child Helpline must be there for all children and young people in crises.”

That’s why we’re here. We want to make a difference for the world’s children and youth, nationally and internationally when needed. In times of crisis, children shall feel safe to reach out, be heard and helped where they need it most.  

That’s why it makes a huge difference to the children and the youth of the world when we work together as part of Child Helpline International.

In the Danish BørneTelefon we have the Ukrainian telephone line where we advise Ukrainian children and youth in Ukrainian, either by phone or chat. This has given us a lot of valuable insights from the questions, concerns and challenges faced by children, youth and parents in a new country with new social structures, norms and rights.

Voices of Children and Young People

“I’m afraid of my parents, and I’m afraid of the war. I don’t want to have to go back home…”

In the spring of 2023, a 13-year-old girl contacted BørneTelefonen (Child Helpline). She had fled Ukraine with her cousin. Her parents were still living in Ukraine.

The girl told us that her cousin wanted to send her back to Ukraine. The girl’s mother also wanted the girl to return to Ukraine. But the girl did not want to return, partly because she had been subjected to violence from her mother for many years. The girl therefore asked for our help so that she could stay in Denmark. The girl said she was very afraid of her parents and the war in Ukraine, where she had lived in one of the most affected areas.

The cousin had no interest in taking care of the girl and threatened the girl with further violence if she did not move back to Ukraine.

The counsellor at the Ukrainian Child Helpline informed her about our Bisidderordning (professional accompanying service). At the girl’s own request, she was assigned a professional accompanying person from Børns Vilkår, a professional accompanying person that our counsellors refer to if the children need help contacting the municipality for further assistance.

On several occasions in the past, the girl had unsuccessfully attempted to have a conversation with the municipality as she was a victim of violence, our specialist consultants also helped her notify the Ankestyrelsen (Danish National Social Appeals Board), which is the Danish complaints authority.

With our help, as well as with the help of the National Social Appeals Board and the Police, the girl was urgently placed into the social serviced housing in Denmark. She has since contacted us and told us that she is doing well and is happy with her new school and friends.

She says that she has now realized that no child, including her, deserves to be beaten or called all sorts of horrible things.  And if she hadn’t come to Denmark and contacted BørneTelefonen here, she would have felt forced to go back to a life filled with violence and war.