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The Story of 116


Part Two: The Importance of Harmonised Numbers

This year, we’re celebrating 16 years of 116 111 – the harmonised number for child helplines in Europe. In an ongoing series of posts, we’re exploring the story of the harmonised number for child helplines, how it came about, and why it’s so important for children to have this harmonised number, and also some current issues facing child helpline members who are operating 116 111.

In this post, I’m taking a look at why a harmonised number for children is so important.

Easy to remember

A harmonised number makes it easier to remember. This helps to ensure that children and adults in countries across Europe can easily access the support they need. Children face additional barriers to seeking help, especially on sensitive issues such as violence and abuse, and an easy-to-remember number such as 116 111 is essential to make it easier for them to seek help. In addition, an easy-to-remember number that represents the same service is important for people who cross borders, for example for children in migration.

Simple to advertise

A harmonised number for a specific service is easier to advertise for national governments, EU agencies and national, regional and international civil society organisations. Too many services cause confusion, and it is difficult to keep information updated. In a 2017 study, Child Helpline International concluded that there was room for improvement around public awareness of 116 111. This is an area where all partners need to work together.

Harmonised number and quality of services

The 116 XYZ numbers are “numbers of social value” in Europe. The people that contact these services are seeking support and guidance on some type of issue that is likely to be distressing for them. Children can contact child helplines about issues relating to mental health, violence and relationships (116 111). Adults and children who are victims of crime can contact victim support hotlines (116 006). Distressed parents can contact missing children’s hotlines (116 000) if a child has gone missing.

It is essential that the response from these services is of the highest quality possible. The same number should represent the same high-quality service across Europe. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, due to insufficient resourcing of child helplines and other 116 XYZ numbers. This needs to change.

Core Quality Standards for Child Helplines

Our main goal as a network is to ensure a harmonised, high-quality service for children and young people across Europe and beyond. To help ensure the quality of child helplines, our members assess themselves annually against our Core Quality Standards (CQS) for Child Helplines – a quality assurance framework developed by expert partners together with our child helpline members.

We are doing this to ensure that child helplines operating the 116 111 number, and other harmonised child helpline numbers elsewhere around the world, represent a high-quality, recognisable service for children that is rights-based, reliable, safe, accessible and child-centred, as well as advocating for children, facilitating meaningful child and youth participation and operating effectively in emergency settings (these are all categories from our CQS framework). 

BUT – many of our members rely on short-term and private funding to sustain their vital services. Our members need support from their national governments to sustainably and fully operate in accordance with the CQS.

The connection between 116 111 and the CQS must also be further acknowledged in EU policy in order to incentivise member states to further support child helplines.

Our call to action

  • National governments should provide sufficient resources for child helplines to fully operate in accordance with Core Quality Standards for Child Helplines

  • The Core Quality Standards Framework for Child Helplines should be acknowledged as the official standard for operating 116 111 child helplines in the European Union.

  • National governments, EU agencies and partner organisations should help to raise awareness of 116 111 services.

Ronja Ulvfot
Regional Manager, Europe


We will continue the Story of 116 111 throughout the year, before celebrating its 16th Anniversary on 29 October 2023.