Dame Esther Rantzen

Ashoka Fellow
United Kingdom,


This profile was prepared when Dame Esther Rantzen was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in .
The New Idea
Esther’s vision is to ensure that no child suffers abuse in silence and every child, whatever their worry, has someone to turn to. When ChildLine launched in 1986 it received 50,000 attempted calls on the first night, with children reporting issues such as sexual abuse, violence and emotional distress. Today, ChildLine counsels more than 300,000 children each year, and over 4 million since its creation. Over the last thirty years, Esther’s model has inspired replication in over 150 countries allowing millions of children to reach out for help and be heard. Amongst others, Childline has informed the work of Ashoka Fellow Jeroo Billimoria, who founded Childline India in 1996. ChildLine has constantly learned from its beneficiaries and adjusted its model to how young people live and communicate: Whereas in the beginning all counselling happened over the phone, today 68% of children reach out online, liberating even more individuals to disclose their concerns.

Before Esther founded ChildLine, sexual abuse on children and violence at home were largely unspoken issues. By creating the helpline and using its data to raise awareness, Esther put an end to widespread denial and brought the topic onto the national agenda. Steadily increasing the number of individuals reached each year, ChildLine gets a unique and incomparable insight into the issues and challenges young people are facing in our society. This makes ChildLine a primary source of information on youth- and behavior trends as well as safeguarding issues. Using this data to create systemic change on a national level, ChildLine presents these perspectives to Government, and uses them to inform public campaigns and influence the judicial system.

The success of ChildLine builds on its child-centered approach, which does not impose solutions on children and guarantees confidentiality unless instructed otherwise by the child itself. After more than 30 years of existence, ChildLine is now widely identified by children and teenagers in the UK as a trusted place to turn to. Today, ChildLine operates from 12 call centers in the UK and as well as its freephone number in Britain, (0800 1111) its national and global success fostered the creation of a European harmonized number - 116111 -, available in 22 countries across the EU.

Building on the success and the 30-year history of ChildLine, Esther applied her methodology to another vulnerable part of society, the elderly, and in 2013 founded The Silver Line Helpline. The Silver Line is a free, confidential 24/7 helpline offering information, friendship and advice to older people combating loneliness and neglect. In addition, and unlike other helplines, old people can also ask to be called on a regular basis – with Silverline staff and volunteers often being the only person individuals will speak to in weeks. With the launch of The Silver Line in the UK Esther responded to the evolution of social challenges of our times. She had realized that the demographic changes we are currently experiencing come with huge opportunities and are the fruit of remarkable medical advancement, however, the stigma perceived by society means that many individuals end up living in desperate loneliness and neglect.

In its first year of operation, The Silver Line received more than 275,000 calls from old vulnerable people, more than half of whom said they had no-one else to talk to. The Silver Line is expanding across the UK and aims to give a voice to isolated old people. Already Esther is aiming to scale on an international level, sharing her experience from ChildLine with others in the field, including Ashoka Fellow Mary Nally from the Third Age Foundation, and hoping to repeat ChildLine’s success of worldwide adoption.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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