Stop to Listen


Ruth Sills

‘Stop to Listen’ is a new national partnership project led by Children 1st. It aims to drive improvement in how our child protection system responds when instances of child sexual abuse or exploitation come to light.  Project manager Ruth Sills explains.


Welcome to the Barnehus, or ‘children’s house,’ in Oslo. The décor is designed to put children at ease, and there toys and soft furnishings to slouch into. It’s a far cry from a courtroom, or a doctor’s surgery, but it has more in common with these settings than appearances would suggest. Because the purpose of the Barnehus is to provide a better service for child victims of abuse: by putting medical examinations, judicial interviews and support to recover from trauma offered to them under one roof.

Professionals working in the Barnehus come from across the disciplines. There’s the police officer, who has been specially trained in interviewing children. The judge, who from a separate room observes interviews with children, over real-time video. The psychologist, who monitors children’s mental health during interviews and ensures they have only to tell their story once. The doctors and nurses, who in a specially equipped room assess children’s medical needs and – if necessary – document injuries for evidence.  And the specialists who support children’s recovery from the trauma that abuse causes, and whose services are offered to every child as a matter of course.

It’s part of my job to gather and share learning from places such as the Barnehus with colleagues in our four Stop to Listen pathfinder areas: Perth and Kinross, Renfrewshire, Glasgow and North Ayrshire. They are professionals from across the statutory services; police, social work, education and health, and from the third sector. They’ve signed up to the pathfinder projects because they know that there’s room for improvement in how we in Scotland respond when child sexual abuse or exploitation comes to light. They know, because survivors of abuse have told us that when professionals learned of their abuse what happened next wasn’t always ideal: they felt they’d lost control, that things moved too quickly, that they weren’t given the support they needed, that they were left too much in the dark. And because of evidence that often children live with abuse for many years before they feel able to tell.

In each pathfinder area I’ve found professionals to be really open to reassessing their working practices and culture. It’s hugely encouraging. The next stage will be for our pathfinders to identify what needs to change, and how. My role is to facilitate that process, and ensure they have the information they need to decide what actions to take.

The changes might initially be small – little tweaks to ways of working, but with a cumulative big impact. And just maybe this could lead to a Scottish Barnehus, although as Scotland has a different structures and legal system to Norway we can’t assume it will be right for us.   Also what will work in a large predominantly rural area such as Perth and Kinross may well differ from what will succeed in densely populated urban Glasgow. Whatever solutions our pathfinders decide to test I’ll work with them to ensure we can properly measure and evaluate their effectiveness.

As ‘Stop to Listen’ is about exploration and shared commitment it is a first step towards transforming how professionals and agencies respond to child sexual abuse and exploitation. The learning from  the pathfinder areas will be an invaluable aid to that process.

Why we’re asking Scotland to #createasmile

Alison Todd

Alison Todd

On September 5, International Day of Charity, we launched our #createasmile campaign: asking Scotland’s people to show children that they deserve a life free from abuse and neglect. So far, over 2,000 of you have done just that and we thank you for showing Scotland’s children you care in this way.

We hope that with your help we can create 5,123 smiles – as that is the number of children we know experienced acts of sexual abuse and cruelty in Scotland last year.

2136 smiles created for Children 1st's #createasmile campaign

I thought I’d tell you why I think this campaign is so important and why I want your support to raise awareness of the work we do in Scotland.

We know that thousands of children in Scotland experience abuse and neglect. The reasons are wide and varied and can include: witnessing domestic abuse, experiencing loss and bereavement, living in poverty or directly being physically, sexually or emotionally abused. For many of us this is hard to imagine, but at Children 1st our staff see first-hand the impact on children and their families of childhood trauma caused by such events.

For children this can manifest itself in them showing signs of distress as they try to manage their emotions and they find it difficult to express how they feel. For parents, the long-term impacts of poor childhood attachment relationships and unresolved childhood trauma can lead to anxiety, depression, alcohol and substance misuse and further isolation as they continue to struggle with their feelings.

Children 1st has been working for over 130 years in Scotland to make sure that we do all we can to protect children and prevent abuse and neglect from happening. We do this by influencing people like you and government to stand up for children’s rights and protection. And when the worst happens, we know that with our help and support, children can recover and go on to have happy healthy lives.

Our staff work with children and their families to create a safe and secure environment so that they can express and understand their feelings. Many children find it hard to say what is wrong, but through a variety of play, drama and art work, we do our best to let them talk through their fears and their anger, and in doing so, give them back their childhood.

For the families we work with, relationships built on trust and respect are essential in giving them support. Our staff make sure that they carefully listen to families, understand their lives and what they see as important. This careful individualised work enables families to recognise and build on the strengths and assets that lie within them – so they can be the best they can be and respond to their children’s distress with understanding and love.

We believe that the best way to protect children is when parents, families and communities work together to provide a safe nurturing environment for children. That’s why I am asking you to #createasmile for Scotland’s children and support our work to strengthen Scotland’s children and families.

To sign up and show your support visit: (and make sure to SHARE the smile you create!)

Creating smiles for Scotland’s children


Children 1st’s #createasmile campaign asks people to show Scotland’s children they all deserve lives free from abuse and neglect. Our Individual Giving Manager Lianne Fyfe explains the thinking behind it.

Child abuse is an extremely complex issue for children and has a substantial impact on families. We have a long history of supporting children and families who have experienced or are at risk of abuse and would never underestimate the seriousness of it, or the damaging effects it can have throughout a child’s lifetime. For these reasons it can be difficult for many members of the public to see how they can personally make a difference.

With that in mind, we wanted to make it as quick and easy as possible for people to take part initially – by visiting the microsite, creating a unique smiling child’s face and sharing it on social media. By encouraging people firstly to #createasmile we’re then hoping to encourage them to find out more: that by supporting our work, they can support Scotland’s children. We need more people to help us raise awareness that, with the right help, children can move on from their experiences and be given new reasons to smile.


Edinburgh’s iconic Balmoral Hotel lit up their clock in support of #createasmile

Every day, Children 1st works with children, their families and carers to recover from the physical and emotional impacts of abuse. We help children who have been abused to overcome feelings of helplessness and trauma by providing a welcoming, safe and creative environment to work through their past experiences.

Our trauma recovery workers support children and their families to understand they are not to blame, to believe in themselves, re-discover their confidence and know that they can have some control over the direction of their future.

millieborderMillie’s story

Millie’s story shows that recovery is possible even from the worst experiences.

Millie* was abused by an adult cousin from age five. She was well into her teens before she was able to tell someone, and the police able to act. That was when Children 1st began to support her.

“As any five year old would, I put my trust in my cousin because he was an adult. But he took advantage of me and made me feel like it was all my fault. He said if I told anyone I wouldn’t be his ‘special little girl any more’, he also said I would go to prison and be in a lot of trouble.

“Over the years it had been getting worse as he was doing more stuff to me. I was 17 before it stopped. When one of my young cousins came to visit I got worried about what might happen and wanted to protect her.

“I spoke to my auntie and we went out in the car with my mum. I told them what had been happening. A few days later my mum phoned the police and they came and interviewed me and took statements.

“It was a difficult time and my doctor put me in touch with Children 1st. Thanks to them I was able to confront my cousin and show him I’m in power not him.”

Millie recently wrote to her Children 1st worker:

“I hope you understand this took a lot of courage and inspiration. I got all my inspiration from you. I really appreciate all the help you have gave me. If it wasn’t for you and Children 1st I don’t think I would have been here where I am today.”

Abuse and neglect in childhood can leave lasting emotional scars but with the right support recovery is possible. It takes time, empathy, commitment and consistency. All of which Children 1st provides.

Shockingly, there were 5,123 offences of sexual abuse and cruelty against Scotland’s children last year**. By the end of the month we’re aiming to have at least this number of smiles created – but we could really do with your help!

To sign up and show your support visit: (and make sure to SHARE the smile you create!)

* Names and some details have been changed to protect confidentiality

**Scottish Government recorded crime statistics.

Should we encourage our children to lie?


Matthew Slavin, Kinship Care Helpline Supervisor

On the face of it this question seems a no brainer. Of course there are issues with children lying!

It can be exhausting when young children deliberately lie. I remember myself being asked “Did you cut your hair”, at the age of 5, when I was missing a square cut from my fringe. “No” was my answer. “OK. Well, which scissors did you use?”, “The orange ones”, I replied. This very common back and forth can be agonising, but it is a normal stage in development.

Very small children, under the age of 3 or 4 are simply unable to lie. As far as they are aware, anyone and everyone can read their mind. So, for a young tot, parents are ‘mind-readers’. They fundamentally believe that you can read their thoughts and feelings. At the age of 3 or 4, neuro-typical children begin to be able to work out that others may think differently to themselves. They begin to learn that what you might think may be different than what I may think. As a result, children use this new skill and practice their new ability through such things as lying. As frustrating as it may be, lies are a normal part of development.

While lying is a normal part of growing up, it can also be extremely worrying. For instance, lying about serious issues can be extremely concerning. Sometimes children are asked to lie and keep secrets to protect others. A child who has been abused may be asked to keep secrets and lie to others. In such cases, it’s always important for your child to know they can come to you with any problem, no matter how big or small and you will always be there to support them.


Recently we heard from a kinship carer who was at the end of her tether. Julie looks after her 8-year-old grandson due to his mum’s drug and alcohol dependency. Julie called us feeling stuck and exhausted from the constant lies and exaggerations about his mum.

Do these things sound familiar? “My mum is an astronaut”, “She’s the fastest runner in the world”, “my mum takes me on holidays whenever I want”, “my mum has a swimming pool full of ice-cream”.

I wonder… could there be some positives in lying? What if we look at things a little different. Rather than ‘telling stories’, what about seeing it as ‘storytelling’?

What we have experienced shapes what we think and feel about ourselves. Our life story shapes our identity. The story: “mum abandoned me, drinks too much and never turns up” is a harsh reality to accept. So, what if we could imagine a better story? We could tell our friends, our loved ones, and ourselves the story we want to hear.

We spend much of our lives avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. For children who have been through trauma, storytelling is one way they can escape the painful stories and enjoy the fantasies they wish were true. Wouldn’t it be great if we could escape the heartbreak? Some young children do exactly that when they tell tall tales.

A difficult question rarely has a simple answer. It might be satisfying to have a one word conclusion, but that would miss the point here. Lying is not as black and white as it seems.

If you’ve had challenges with lying, we’d love to hear from you!

Call: 08000 28 22 33, text: 07860 022844

Web-chat at:

Leaving home

ParentLine volunteer Helen on why out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind when it comes to children.

When it comes to bringing up children, it’s fair to say that there is an endless stream of milestones to meet and potential concerns. As parents we seem to spend a huge amount of our time worrying about each step that our child will take, both the literal first steps, and then the figurative ones as they test the boundaries and grow as individuals. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride for any family with lots of highs and lows along the way – and we can be left at the end of it wondering how on earth any of us survived!

But what happens when the next step is a really big one and your child decides to leave home and move out independently into the world? This might be through higher education, a job offer in another part of the country, or maybe they just want to travel overseas for a while and experience more of the world.

Whatever the reason, the concerns you have as a parent don’t suddenly stop. It’s not a question of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. In fact, it might even be harder because – without the daily contact – it can be difficult to check out how your child is doing, particularly if that child is craving independence and only communicates monosyllabically by text once in a blue moon!

Are they eating properly? Have they made new friends? Are they keeping themselves safe? Can they cope with all the challenges ahead of them? As parents, these concerns are all real, and knowing how to address them can be as challenging as actually watching the child go in the first place.

But that’s what ParentLine is for: to listen to those worries and concerns, to talk them through and to offer support. At ParentLine we don’t claim to be able to provide the answer to every question but we can offer you the emotional support that you might need right now. And we have the resources to point you in the direction of more specialised support if necessary.

Hopefully, by giving you the space and time to explore your concerns, this will leave you in a better place to support your child, if and when they need it.

Call: 08000 28 22 33, text: 07860 022844

Web-chat at:

Children’s fears of terrorism are real – but parents can bring proportion

“Will our airport blow up?” Kirsty asked. It seemed an unusual question but her mum knew why she was asking.

For the last week Kirsty had been talking about the terrorist attack in Brussels after seeing the start of the 6 o’ clock news. Chat with friends at school seemed to have increased her anxiety and, with their trip to France coming up, the result was nightmares and Kirsty, aged 8, coming into bed with mum and dad every night.

It’s impossible for children to not hear about terrible things that happen in the world and the recent increase in terrorist attacks in Europe is bound to mean more worries for some children.

So how should we help our children like Kirsty deal with such worries?

Children 1st runs ParentLine, the Scottish national helpline, and we get parents and carers like Kirsty’s mum calling us about a whole range of issues, including the worries children and young people have. Our aim is to help parents and carers help their children, or get help from elsewhere if that’s needed.

The first important thing to point out is that your child has already done something positive by talking with you. So try and make sure you help them continue this good habit. You want them to come to you with their worries rather than bottling them up. You can do this by taking them seriously, not making them feel their worries are stupid but helping them get a more realistic perspective.

You also don’t want to communicate your anxieties about this too much. You want them to talk about their own fears and you don’t want them to get more upset about you. So, try and listen calmly.

Secondly, you want them to have a realistic understanding of risk. Whilst really bad things do happen, very occasionally, the likelihood of your child being the victim of a terrorist attack is very small. So help them to understand all of the times people use airports and nothing happens, all of the safe journeys people usually make. You want them to have a reasonable understanding of the world where there are lots of good people who want to help children even though there are some situations they should avoid. Also, help them know that if they do see something they are worried about, there are people like you, their schoolteacher, a police officer, or a trusted friend, who they can talk to.

Difficult conversations with children are opportunities for you to build an even better relationship with them. And if they are coming to you now when they are worried about a terrorist attack, you want to build that relationship so they will come to you when they need to talk about exam stress, worries about growing up, poor self-image and difficult relationships with friends and boy or girl friends. Listening to their fears without minimising them is key to helping children feel heard and understood and therefore reducing their anxiety.

Parenting and caring for children is sometimes really hard for all of us. Just talking things through with someone else can help you do the best for your kids. So phone or text Parentline if you want to check out how best to help your children.

Call: 08000 28 22 33, text: 07860 022844

Web-chat at:

Finding strength in small changes

Children 1st local managers Froya Rossvoll and Lorna Mulholland explain how our work in Aberdeenshire is making a difference to children and families.

Here’s a story about an Aberdeenshire family: a mum, dad and three young children. Neither parents had a job. Mum was at college, but was finding juggling that with family life stressful. Dad, who had a traditional view of family roles and suffered from long-standing mental health issues, wasn’t helping out as much as he could. They lived out in the countryside and were quite isolated – some days their car worked, some days it didn’t. The children had limited routines, and home life was chaotic. The youngest, age three, wasn’t speaking yet, which was a worry.

We offered to support the family with regular visits from a Children 1st worker. We got a clear picture of what would help with a lens called ‘My World Triangle’. We discussed the Triangle with the couple to establish a shared understanding of what was working well, what they were struggling with, and what could be improved. We agreed priorities to focus on. But we knew we’d need to be flexible, always reviewing progress, and adjusting support as family needs and circumstances changed.


We helped the mum who struggled with cooking, to prepare meals. We demonstrated how mealtimes could be made sociable and enjoyable for the whole family. We supported both parents to establish family routines and good habits: for getting up and going to bed, for helping out, for doing homework, and for treating each other with courtesy. We used play sessions with their youngest designed to develop language skills. We brought books and other resources to encourage learning and make it fun.

We were proactive. We challenged dad to do more to help mum, and to understand how his behaviour was affecting his family. We worked in partnership with mental health services to ensure he was getting the full range of support he needed.

Things began to look up. The couple started planning ahead. They got better at agreeing and sharing tasks and at sticking to routines. Dad, feeling more confident, began looking for volunteering opportunities. Having set routines allowed mum to find time for study. Their youngest child’s language came on. They moved to better accommodation in a town and became less isolated. They were now a stronger family, so we were able to say goodbye.

Without Children 1st the family’s situation could have reached crisis point. We helped prevent that. And we’re doing the same for families, with children from birth to age eight, across Aberdeenshire. We’re introduced to families by professionals such as health visitors, who have spotted issues such as a developmental delay in a child or that a family is isolated and disconnected from their community. These professionals know that whether a family sinks or swims can be down to small changes – a load lightened, a habit changed, strengths found. That’s our speciality.