Interview with David Burns - NSPCC Helpline Manager for Northern Ireland
ADVDIP Management Practice and BSc Hons Management Practice, Jordanstown
- Can you give a brief outline of your career to date?
I spent 30 years in the police and when I left the force I went straight into the NSPCC’s adult helpline. The helpline, which is open 24/7, is a place where adults can contact us by phone or online to get advice or share their concerns about a child, anonymously if they wish.
It is staffed by professional practitioners with backgrounds in jobs like teaching, healthcare and social work, who know how to spot the signs of abuse and what to do to help. Parents and carers often have lots of questions, such as what is the right age to leave a child home alone, what to do about bullying or how to keep their children safe online.
Professionals such as teachers and doctors also contact us for information and guidance. Our helpline staff will provide expert advice and support.
- What was your favourite subject at school?
My favourite subject was history. The work we did around the First World War was very moving and I still listen to Elton John’s ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ today which brings back memories of this time in my life.
- Did you go on to further/higher education, if so what did you study and where?
Having joined the police directly after school when I was 19, I always felt that I hadn’t achieved my potential.
I believed I was capable of getting a degree and wanted to get a qualification to help me get another job when I left the police. At the age of 48 I enrolled at Ulster University to study for a degree in Business Practice. I was lucky enough to be taught by the very inspirational Joy Taylor, a lecturer who excelled in guiding mature students through a very difficult course. I got a distinction and this has helped me in my daily work managing staff in the NSPCC.
- How did you get into your area of work?
During my time with the police I started working with sex offenders and I found this challenging but rewarding. At the same time I was asked to take on a group of officers to investigate child abuse. I have spoken to many people who say ‘How did you do that? How can you talk to people who have abused children and then talk to those children who have been abused?’ The honest answer is that I talked to children to convict the abusers and then when the abusers came out of jail I worked with them to prevent further abuse – it is so important to try to prevent reoffending. It was this vital experience, together with my degree, which meant I could take up the post with NSPCC Northern Ireland.
- Is this what you always wanted to do?
I didn’t plan this career path but I always knew how important it was to protect children. I have a wonderful team in Belfast who are committed and passionate and they work day and night to protect children. To be honest, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else now.
- Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?
During my time in the police, I was selected to go to Croatia and train police officers, social workers and the judiciary in child protection issues. They were entering the European Union and were committed to improving their knowledge, training and policies. We advised them about child abuse, how best to interview children and how obtain the best evidence. We also guided them on setting up sex offender monitoring units. This was the sort of experience that put me in a unique position to head up the NSPCC helpline that opened in Northern Ireland in 2014.
- What are the main personal skills your job requires?
You need to know about child protection, to be caring and empathetic, and you have to be a good listener.
- What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?
Referrals from the local NSPCC helpline to police and social services have increased by 40% over the last five years. The best times are when you have helped a child and you know they are safe and you have made a difference. Some of the most difficult times have been when adults have contacted us who have been abused when they were children but have never talked about it until that moment.
Why is what you do important?
To protect and safeguard children must be the most important aspect in anyone’s life. But to do it day and daily is a privilege.
- What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?
It is difficult but very rewarding. Try out voluntary work first - I would suggest Childline.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?
Listen to people around you. They usually know better than you.
Source: Belfast Telegraph NI Jobfinder