Canada’s toll-free, anonymous, confidential helpline for kids completed its annual cross-country school tour last week reminding students that they have someone to call no matter what challenges they face.
Beginning last November, three teams of counsellors from Kids Help Phone presented at 30 high schools across the country.
It was an “awesome” opportunity to meet the students and raise awareness about Kids Help Phone, said Cheryl-Lynn Roberts, a counsellor who has worked at the Toronto-based non-profit organization for nearly nine years.
“They did a lot of outreach and reached over 10,000 students,” she said.
This year is Kids Help Phone’s third annual school tour presented by Motorola’s Raise Your Voice program.
Raise Your Voice supports youth by partnering with organizations that provide resources and information and encourage young people to ask for help when they need it and to speak out on issues that affect them.
The six counsellors divided themselves into a Quebec team that also visited French schools in northern Ontario and two English teams that travelled to other parts of Canada.
Ms. Roberts said that last year Kids Help Phone assisted kids and youth from nearly 3,000 communities and more than 2.2 million times on the phone and online.
The organization’s approximately 100 full- and part-time professional counsellors provide phone and web counselling, referral, and information for young people—mostly from five to 20 years of age—round the clock every day of the year.
This year, Kids Help Phone celebrates 20 years in existence. Its phones first went live in 1989, the website launched in 1996, and online counselling began in 2002.
“Our calls have increased over the years. We are getting more calls about bullying, cyber-bullying, and Internet safety,” Ms. Roberts said.
“Over 70 percent of the calls are from well-functioning, high-functioning kids. About 30 percent are the ones that are more serious.”
In one case, a teenage boy from Ontario called and said he had taken some pills but didn’t want to die. He was very groggy and didn’t know exactly where he was but was able to provide some nearby landmarks, such as a coffee shop and a gas station. Ms. Roberts provided this information to the ambulance to get help to the boy.
Unless the caller wishes to reveal their identity, “it’s really anonymous and we don’t want any child to ever feel pressured,” she said.
The counsellors do not call out or call kids back and cannot trace calls, as they do not have call display on their phones.
Last week a young girl called wanting to report abuse going on at her home by both parents, including being beaten with a belt by her father.
In this case “I was more or less an advocate for the child because the child was ready to disclose,” Ms. Roberts said.
She called the Children’s Aid Society and arranged a three-way call. The social worker took down the girl’s name and phone number and arranged to meet her at her school.
“At the end of that shift I was happy I stayed over later just to stay on the phone with her. I left feeling that this is why I come here, because it does make a difference.”
Last year 23 percent of the requests for help were related to mental health concerns, about 22 percent were peer issues, 13 percent were family issues, and 10 percent were related to sexuality. Other topics included abuse, bullying, physical health, addictions, suicide, acculturation, and school.
Ms. Roberts also spoke of the challenges facing the kids.
“Parenting is probably the toughest and most important job that you’ll ever do in your life, no matter what your career is, but there are times where the children are calling us and we’re asking these kids to try and resolve things. Sometimes their hands are tied; it’s hard for them.”
Kids Help Phone maintains a national database of nearly 37,000 child and youth services to enable counsellors to refer kids to resources in their own communities. It is a member of Child Helpline International, a network of over 80 child helplines working to protect children’s rights worldwide.
The annual Walk for Kids Help Phone takes place on May 3. Last year walkers in 55 communities across Canada raised $3 million.
Kids Help Phone can be reached at 1-800-668-6868 or www.kidshelpphone.ca .