Accepted Paper:

Helpline or Call Centre? Volunteered counselling and performance management at ChildLine, UK  

Author:

Rosie Read (Bournemouth University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers the efforts of a UK children’s charity to improve the performance of its volunteers who provide counselling care to children in distress. Analysis draws on anthropological debates on the production and moralisation of unpaid caring labour within neoliberalism.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is based on ethnographic research at ChildLine, a free, 24/7 national helpline for children up to the age of 18 in the UK. ChildLine trains its own counsellors, many of whom go on to work as unpaid volunteers who counsel children by phone and online, on issues such as sexual, physical and emotional abuse, neglect, bullying and self-harm. In 2007 ChildLine obtained a government grant to upgrade its telecommunication systems. In return, the government required the charity to improve what was regarded as 'poor' answer rates - insisting that the charity meet the national demand of children and young people for its counselling services. Consequently, ChildLine adopted call centre technologies to forecast demand more accurately and tightened the management and audit of its counsellors' performance. This paper analyses the reframing of volunteers' contribution of time and unpaid counselling labour, from something for which the organisation was unconditionally grateful (on behalf of children) to something volunteers 'owed' in return for the organisation's investment in training them. Exploring volunteers' and managers' perceptions of these developments within a wider economy of volunteered caring work, I consider what this case illustrates about the production and dissolution of the volunteer as a moral subject under neoliberal conditions.

Panel P091
Cross-cutting care and care across cuts: dimensions of care in contexts of crisis and social change