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.
SOS CRIANÇA – PORTUGAL
SOS-Criança is a pioneering service created by the Instituto de Apoio de Criança in 1988. Initially an anonymous and confidential nationwide free telephone service, the child helpline has later been complemented by post and electronic mail, online chat and, more recently, WhatsApp. In January 2008, the IAC was awarded the harmonized child helpline number 116 111 for Portugal, replacing the national numbers that had previously existed.
The SOS-Criança team is mostly psychologists, and their focus is on giving a voice to and supporting children and young people up to the age of 18. The team’s approach is empathetic, affective and above all supportive, seeking to listen, engage in dialogue, reflect and refer those who request their support. In addition to promoting the protection of children and young people in situations of abandonment, neglect, physical, emotional or sexual abuse, and child labour, among many other issues, SOS-Criança seeks to support and help children and their families, as well as professionals, to reflect on the problems that affect them. SOS-Criança is above all a preventative service that aims to act before any potential situation of risk situation becomes a reality.
In addition to the child helpline 116 111, SOS-Criança runs other services, including offering free psychological counselling, with the aim of restoring the psychological balance of children and young people who seek support and/or are referred; and social and educational intervention in primary schools.
SOS-Criança is one of the social responses of the Instituto de Apoio à Criança, which for the last 40 years has dedicated its efforts towards promoting and defending the Rights of the Child, in order to realize its vision of a society where all children have their rights guaranteed, through positive changes in the lives of children and young people in Portugal.
Through SOS-Criança, the IAC has collaborated with Child Helpline International since practically its foundation in 2003, having participated as early as 2005 in the international activities organized by the network. All Child Helpline International’s members are guided by the common goal of giving children a voice, and work in partnership to promote and defend children’s rights.
The first time I represented the IAC at a Child Helpline International meeting was at the 6th International Consultation of Child Helplines that took place in South Africa in 2008. Meeting so many people from so many different cultures, and from institutions with work similar to ours but in circumstances so different from our own, was truly inspiring and gave me a totally new outlook. I was able to see how work was being done in parts of the world where people were living through war, crisis or poverty, and in countries that have far more resources than our own. It was a unique experience in every sense. In 2012 I took part in the 8th International Consultation in Bangkok, which was also a unique experience, in a marvellous place, with a culture so different from ours in Portugal.
At both events, despite the very different cultures and realities I encountered, I realized that children have the same problems all over the world and that our work, our responses and our love for children is the same, wherever we are, whatever language we speak, whether we come from a rich or poor country. I loved these trips and professionally I learnt a lot and shared as much as possible with my team in Portugal.
As well as these major conferences, I have taken part in most of the regional consultations in Europe, and in all of them I have learnt and shared good practices. Child Helpline International has been a real school of how to work on a helpline and help children, wherever they come from, because they are all treated with equal rights.
IAC SOS-Criança looks forward to this network continuing to expand, gaining more and more members. The more of us there are, working around the world to defend children’s rights, the more children there will be who can benefit from our activities and who will be protected!
Maria João Cosme
IAC – SOS-Criança
Voices of Children and Young People
“It was over three years ago, in April 2020, that I contacted SOS-Criança. I remember feeling lonely, anxious and depressed at the time, and the isolation with Covid-19 had made the situation much worse, isolating me even more from the world and making me think about suicide several times. That’s when I realized I needed help, and I remembered a flyer I’d been given at school about SOS-Criança.
I sent them an email telling them about how I was feeling and later I was also able to talk to them via WhatsApp. They were my glimmer of hope and were crucial to my recovery. I’m currently being counselled by an SOS-Criança psychologist, and although there are times when I feel depressed, my mental health has improved a lot since then.
Thank you so much to SOS-Criança for the support you’ve given me, because I know I can count on you!”