Kids Help Phone helps teens, says study



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In 1989, Kids Help Phone opened its
lines to kids across Canada with the
primary goal of providing a safe and
anonymous place for kids to report
abuse and neglect. Kids have since
transformed the service with the
growing list of issues they face.

“Young people have helped
determine what we have become
and have helped build our internal
knowledge,” says Alisa Simon, VP
of Counselling. Now on the eve of its
25th anniversary, the organization
is reflecting on its evolution, into a
forum for youth to find information,
get real-time counselling and connect
to local resources.

“Kids Help Phone plays a key role
in the youth mental health system,”
says Sharon Wood, President and
CEO of Kids Help Phone. “The young
people that contact us are often on
waiting lists to be seen by a health
care provider or are in-between
appointments, and we may refer them
to a local resource if necessary.”

Although client testimonials have
sung the service’s praises before,
recently released scientific research
proves Kids Help Phone works.
The report titled “Proof Positive”
analyzed survey data from users
revealing that reaching out to a Kids
Help Phone professional counsellor,
either by  or online, makes kids
feel better. Specifically, it leads to a
reduction in isolation, an increase
in awareness of personal strengths,
and helps young people develop
the courage and skills to solve life’s
challenges themselves.

Young people tend to reach out for
one of three main reasons:

  • mental and emotional health (eating
    disorders, self-injury and managing
    emotions among others)
  • peer relationships (dating, love,
    friends)
  • family relationships (divorce, absent
    parent, blended family, siblings)

“Calling Kids Help Phone shouldn’t
be viewed as a deficit,” Alisa says.
“Your child calling us doesn’t mean
you’re failing as a parent. We should
be proud that our kids are learning it’s
OK to reach out for help.”

In fact, Alisa says kids are often
calling to get advice on how to talk to
their parents about a sticky situation.
“Our counsellors help the callers
think about what to say, coaching
them through the conversation and
even role play.”

User profile

  • 10 percent of Kids Help Phone users
    self-identify as Aboriginal, which is
    double the group’s representation in
    the Canadian population.
  • Only 23 percent of callers identify as
    male. “Boys call until around age 13,
    then they tend to drop off until around
    age 17 or 18,” says Alisa.
  • 16 percent of callers identify as gay,
    lesbian, bisexual or questioning,
    though they are not always calling
    with problems around their sexuality.

Counsellors have also referred
about 40 percent of clients to
local solutions by accessing their
Community Resource Database of
more than 46,000 programs from
17,500 communities across Canada.

Then there are the cries for help
that require serious intervention,
when young people, for example, talk
about self-harm. “Counsellors are
trained to de-escalate the situation,”
says Alisa. “They know how to keep
the client on the line or engaged in
the chat, and to get them to tell their
name or where they are.” While
anonymity is a critical promise made
to kids, Kids Help Phone counsellors
can encourage young people at risk to
share identifying information so that
they can get immediate help; when a
life is in danger, counsellors – like all
adults – have a duty to report.

Adapting to technology

Changes in technology
have transformed how
Kids Help Phone works.
Anyone with a tween
or teen knows they are
master texters, so last year
Kids Help Phone launched
a live chat. It runs four
nights a week from 6 to
11 p.m. “The queue is
full in 15 minutes,” says
Alisa. “The live chat
allows for different ways
of communicating. Some
kids need to talk about
their problems, others like
to write it out, print out the
response, think about it.”

While Aboriginal youth
are connecting with Kids
Help Phone at about twice
their representation in
Canada’s population, the
take-up on the live chat
is considerably lower.
“We’ve been trying to
reach this community, but
did some focus groups and
found that our outreach
materials did not speak to
them,” says Alisa. “They
didn’t see themselves in
our materials. So we did a
design competition with
them and actually chose
two winners.”

Kids Help Phone’s
Always There app was
designed by young people
and helps kids track their
emotions, providing a
stress buster. The next
version of the app due in
the fall will allow young
people to search for local
resources from wherever
they are. Because
anonymity is paramount
to Kids Help Phone, the
app doesn’t provide much
data, except how often it
was downloaded. There
were 3,600 downloads
between December 2012
and May 2013. With the
Kids Help Phone posters
sent to schools across the
country that will include
the QR code, Kids Help
Phone expects usage to
further increase.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2013.

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