Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Thirty years of ChildLine

Presented here are recordings relating to a witness seminar organised in 2016 by Dr Eve Colpus (University of Southampton) and Dr Jennifer Crane (University of Warwick) to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the foundation of ChildLineLink opens in a new window, a telephone helpline for children.

The charity

From its beginnings ChildLine stressed the need to listen to children talking about their concerns and the threats they faced in their own terms. This resulted in a wider concept of ‘child abuse’ which included physical and emotional abuse as well as sexual abuse, and neglect. Like other children’s charities, it has extended its work to address child abuse and exploitation on digital platforms, including via social media.

By 2016, as part of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), it had twelve bases across the UK and had influenced the establishment of children’s helplines in Africa, Asia and Europe. Its work has raised a series of questions about shifting attitudes towards the child and children’s health, social responsibility and individual rights.

The seminar

The witness seminar brought together the following speakers:

  • Dame Esther Rantzen, founder/president of ChildLine and Trustee of the NSPCC;
  • Colin Butler, MBE, ChildLine counsellor from 1986;
  • Anne Houston, OBE, DUniv FRSA, child protection consultant & independent chair (director of ChildLine Scotland, 1990-2007);
  • Baroness Valerie Howarth, OBE, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children and member of a number of safeguarding committees (chief executive of ChildLine, 1986-2001);
  • Mary MacLeod, OBE, deputy chair of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) and senior independent director of Great Ormond Street Hospital (director of ChildLine, 1991-1999);
  • Rt Hon Shaun Woodward, former Secretary of State and MP; former deputy chair and trustee of ChildLine;
  • David Brindle, public services editor of the Guardian;
  • John Cameron, OBE, NSPCC Head of Helplines and lead on ChildLine;
  • Anne Longfield, OBE, Children’s Commissioner for England from March 2015;
  • Sue Minto, NSPCC Head of Helplines Transformation (head of Childline, July 2007 to 2015)
  • Professor Mathew Thomson, University of Warwick, author of Lost freedom: the landscape of the child and the British post-war settlement.

The seminar was chaired by BBC radio presenter Sue MacGregor, CBE. It was subsequently documented in a Guardian article by David BrindleLink opens in a new window. The organisers also reflected on it in the IndependentLink opens in a new window, and for the History & Policy Forum on ParentingLink opens in a new window. It was organised with kind sponsorship and support from the Wellcome Trust, the University of Southampton, BT (the hosts), Public Policy @ Southampton, and the Modern Records Centre.

Video animation on ChildLine and the forthcoming seminar


Recording of Panel One (1h 49m 51s)

This panel aimed to bring together witnesses to reflect upon the emergence of ChildLine in 1986, its early organisation and its significance in 1980s and 1990s Britain. The speakers were Dame Esther Rantzen, Baroness Valerie Howarth, Shaun Woodward, Mary MacLeod, Colin Butler and Anne Houston.


Recording of Panel Two (1h 28m 27s)

This panel used the history of ChildLine to contextualise current challenges for children and the voluntary sector. The speakers were Professor Mathew Thomson, Sue Minto, John Cameron, Anne Longfield and David Brindle.

The archive

These recordings are part of a digital archiveLink opens in a new window now held at the Modern Records Centre relating to the seminar and the research which preceded it. It also contains a transcriptLink opens in a new window and photographs of the seminar proceedings, the research and historical background note and programme, and the policy briefing Making child protection “child-centred”: lessons from ChildLine.

The archive is significant not only for the history, contexts and future directions of ChildLine, but also for broader knowledge of the voluntary sector, public policy, law, childhood, and medicine in the late twentieth century.

The project organisers

Dr Eve Colpus is a historian of modern Britain, with research interests in social activism and volunteerism. Her first book, Female philanthropy and the interwar world: between self and other is to be published by Bloomsbury Academic press in 2017.

Dr Jennifer Crane holds a PhD about child protection policy in Britain (1974-2015). Her current research is about campaigning around the NHS over time, and she is working towards a monograph based on her PhD.

In Eve and Jenny’s work respectively on the history of charity and campaigning in the UK, and child abuse, ChildLine has emerged as both innovatory and inter-related to a whole series of social, cultural, intellectual, political and technological developments. If you would like to discuss the materials in this archive, please feel free to email Eve and Jenny at and .