2023 marks the 20th Anniversary of Child Helpline International. To celebrate this momentous occasion, we have invited 20 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 that will run between now and World Children’s Day on 20 November 2023.
GREECE: THE SMILE OF THE CHILD
“The Smile of the Child” was founded in 1995 by the 10-year-old Andreas Yannopoulos, who expressed in his diary the desire to create an organization so that all children could have protection, love, affection, interest and respect.
The dream of 10-year-old Andreas became a reality, and today “The Smile of the Child”, recognized internationally, with a vision of bringing a smile to every child, implements nationwide, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, effective and immediate actions for the prevention and treatment of children in danger or in need.
With Andreas’ vision as a guide, we have been working all these years to support children in Greece who are facing health problems, poverty, disappearance, or are victims of violence and/or exploitation. Our approach is holistic, providing a wide range of prevention, treatment, and care services. One of the most important activities of the Organization is the operation of Hotlines and Helplines. Specifically, it operates three hotlines/helplines for children: the National Helpline for Children SOS 1056, the European Hotline for Missing Children 116000 and the European Helpline for Children and Adolescents 116111.
The hotlines/helplines are staffed exclusively by qualified social workers and psychologists and are available nationwide, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, while the calls are free of charge. Emphasizing communication with children and adolescents, in addition to telephone communication, children are given the opportunity to “talk” with us through email, chat and social media.
Additionally, the hotlines/helplines are connected to 112, the European Emergency Number, and are linked to the SAWA Helpline in Palestine. SAWA is also a member of the Child Helpline International, and serves as an interpreter for Arabic-speaking individuals in our country. Logistically, the lines are equipped with state-of-the-art machinery and software and operate in seven interconnected call centres as one. This ensures a maximum waiting time of 12 seconds for each call! The call centres are located in:
- Attica (Aghia Paraskevi, Maroussi, Piraeus, and Kareas)
- Heraklion, Crete
There is also an interconnection with the Direct Social and Medical Intervention Centers of the Organization throughout Greece, namely, in Larissa, Corfu, Chalkida, Corinth, Pyrgos, Rethymnon and Chania. It is worth noting that “The Smile of the Child,” wishing to ensure the uninterrupted operation of the Lines under any circumstances, has an Emergency Call Centre at the International Airport El. Venizelos (Disaster Recovery Area).
In general, “The Smile of the Child,” as a trusted NGO partner of Facebook, utilizes innovative technologies thanks to the support and cooperation of international institutions and technology and telecommunication companies in Greece that offer their services free of charge in order to provide holistic support to all children in need of help.
The services provided through the helplines are as follows:
National Helpline for Children SOS 1056
- Receiving anonymous and confidential reports of children at risk (abuse, exploitation, trafficking, unaccompanied children).
- Activating procedures for the immediate provision of protection for children at risk (on-site intervention).
- Activating procedures for the care of abused children in hospitals (transitional phase).
- Managing requests for accommodation of abused children in the 11 Homes of the Agency.
- Providing guidance on various issues and facilitating interaction with other services.
- Mobilizing volunteer blood donors.
For the implementation of the above, the Emergency Response Vehicles, Mobile Medical Intensive Care Units, and Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care Units, available 24 hours a day, are at the disposal of the Helpline.
“The Smile of the Child” has been operating the National Helpline for Children SOS 1056 since 1997. In 2007, the Line was recognized as the National Helpline for Children in Greece and plays a crucial role in the prevention and treatment of violence faced by children, including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, neglect, bullying, trafficking and exploitation.
European Hotline for Missing Children 116000
“The Smile of the Child” operates the European Hotline for Missing Children 116000, which offers free support to missing children and their families. It also receives anonymous information about missing children, including runaway teenagers, abduction by a third person, parental abduction, and alarming disappearances, and forwards it to the relevant authorities.
The 116000 hotline is available 24 hours a day and is supported by the following operational resources:
- The Search & Rescue Team “Thanasis Makris,” which includes certified Canine Teams.
- Specialized technical equipment such as jeeps, ATVs, motorbikes, and ambulances.
- The “Odysseas” Mobile Operations Centre.
“The Smile of the Child” has been operating the European Hotline for Missing Children116000 since 2007, after being assigned the number by the National Telecommunications and Postal Commission. In 2016, the 116000 Hotline in Greece received a certification with a maximum score of 100% during the evaluation of all 116000 hotlines across Europe conducted by Missing Children Europe. It has also been recognized as an info desk for trafficking through the EU-funded VICTOR program.
European Helpline for Children and Adolescents 116111
Since 2015 and following its assignment by the National Telecommunications and Postal Commission, “The Smile of the Child” also operates the European Helpline for Children and Adolescents 116111, providing free psychological support to children and adults. A team of specialized psychologists is available to offer support on issues of concern
Since the very beginning, “The Smile of the Child” has considered partnerships with like-minded organizations and networks from around the world highly important, in order to learn about international standards, exchange good practices and avoid reinventing the wheel, while also to unite forces in order to better support children across borders.
“The Smile of the Child” actively participated in the first meetings with other like-minded organizations running helplines in other countries, and strongly endorsed the idea of establishing an International Network for Helplines for Children. The Organization joined Child Helpline International in 2003 as one of the founding members, and has been a very active member ever since, participating in the global effort to create and strengthen national helplines for children worldwide, foster direct cooperation, exchange of good practices, and sharing of know-how with the common goal of protecting and safeguarding children.
Indeed, over the 20 years, “The Smile of the Child” has benefitted greatly from being part of the global initiative, by striving to meet the highest standards, collecting data and joining initiatives. One of the most noteworthy concrete results of its membership is the bilateral partnership it established with a fellow member in Palestine,
With support from Child Helpline International, the Organization established a connection with the SAWA Helpline, also a member, which stands as an innovative example of comprehensive and effective use of technology for the benefit of children. After extensive technical preparations and efforts, their call centres in Greece and Palestine were successfully linked. These centers operate freely, 24/7, 365 days a year. Consequently, when an operator at “The Smile of the Child” receives a call from a refugee or migrant child in Greece who does not speak Greek or English, the operator at the Palestine call center can join the call through a simultaneous telephone connection, offering necessary support. The aim of this interconnection is to provide immediate personalized support based on the children’s linguistic and cultural background. The first test call was successfully conducted in Greece on May 9, 2018, during the official visit of Mr. Christos Stylianidis, the then European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, to “The Smile of the Child’s” Emergency Operations Centre in Athens.
“The Smile of the Child” plays a significant role in assisting children and their families, providing a safe space to share concerns, seek guidance, and find help. Each call and case handled represents an opportunity to make a lasting impact on the lives of children.
Together, we work towards making a positive difference, one call at a time.
As one of founders, we only hope to see Child Helpline International grow further, bringing on board more and more members, stimulating and assisting in the establishment of helplines in more countries, while continuously improving the quality of the services of existing helplines for the benefit of the children reaching out to us.
President of the Board of Directors of
The Smile of the Child
President of the Board of Directors of
the European Antibullying Network
Honorary Doctorate of the Department of Education & Social Work of the University of Patras
Voices of Children & Young People
“If a mother attempts suicide, is it the child’s fault?”
What we always say at “The Smile of the Child” and the National Helpline for Children SOS1056 is that every call is an opportunity to save a child. This opportunity is not always obvious and may be hidden behind a silent call or a prank call.
As part of a playful act, we also received a call from a teenage girl, approximately 13 years old, who learned about the helpline after psychologists from our organization visited her school to provide information and interactive sessions on the subject “Children’s Rights”.
Initially, the young girl called without speaking, and later she called again using funny and aggressive language towards the social worker (call handler). The social worker remained calm and listened to the call, attempting to find a way to communicate with the child. Eventually, a relationship of trust and security was developed, and the young girl started calling to share news or simply greet the call handler.
During one conversation, the girl posed a question: “If a mother attempts suicide, is it the child’s fault?” This question became a starting point for their communication, leading the child to confide that her mother makes non-fatal suicide attempts, and she believes she bears some responsibility for her mother’s experiences.
The communication shifted to addressing and managing the child’s feelings of anger, guilt, and shame. Simultaneously, safety checks were conducted for the child’s well-being. The relieved young girl disclosed that she had started self-harming on her arms and legs due to high stress levels. Immediate action was taken, and we promptly contacted her mother, who showed no willingness to cooperate for the sake of the child. While maintaining discretion to avoid further endangering the child, communication with the mother continued, and the authorities were informed in order to find the best possible solutions for the child.
Today, 2 months later, the child continues to call the helpline to talk to her newfound and dearest friend, as she describes the social worker. Having the opportunity to speak to a helpline anonymously, whenever she wants, without facing criticism, has been crucial for her.
We are here for all these children. For the children who cannot wait for an appointment, for those too embarrassed to visit a specialist’s office, and for those who have limited opportunities to talk. We are here to listen and support them.
“I just wanted to thank you for everything you do for all the children in the world.”
In February 2023, at the National Helpline for Children, SOS 1056, we received the sweetest and most encouraging message to keep going. Little M., a 10-year-old boy, called the hotline and said: “Hi, I just wanted to thank you for everything you do for all the children in the world.”
After thanking him, the psychologist who answered the call asked if the child needed anything or if there was something specific he wanted. The child responded, “Just that, thank you very much.”
To our little friend, we want to thank you back and everyone who supports “The Smile of the Child” and the children it cares for. In 1995, 10-year-old Andreas Yannopoulos gave us a message, a vision for all the children at-risk in Greece. For the past 28 years, we have faithfully served that vision for a better world for all children.