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9th International Child Helpline Consultation

A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to attend the 9th International Child Helpline Consultation which brought together staff from child helplines from across Canada and around the world. As I sat in the room surrounded by so many people that have a single goal, to provide young people a supportive person to call, chat or text with whenever and wherever they want, I was in awe of the variety of services and also the complexity of the technology and the systems that were set up to support young people. Below are my three takeaways from the conference:

  1. The Launch of Crisis Text Line powered by Kids Help Phone
    On day one of the conference I had the opportunity to be present for the national launch of Crisis Text Line powered by Kids Help Phone. Although the Crisis Text Line has been operating since early 2018, on a trial basis in some provinces, on November 6th is went nationwide which allows more young people to get support where, when and how they want it. The Crisis Text Line is available in both English and French and can be reached by texting 686868.

    The Crisis Text Line cannot be reached through texting apps and this service is confidential but not anonymous, as your cell phone number can be accessed by a Crisis Text Line Supervisor in an emergency. To learn more about the Crisis Text Line powered by Kids Help Phone visit their FAQ page https://kidshelpphone.ca/text/.

  2. How Chatbots and Machine Learning Support Crisis Text Lines 
    With the launch of Crisis Text Line powered by Kids Help Phone a main focus of the consultation was on how to use technology to better support young people, with lots of interesting information on Chatbots and Machine Learning (Artificial Intelligence). 

    In order for Text Lines services to function more efficiently and effectively they pull out words and emojis that signal a person is at higher risk of suicide ideation or self harm. The computer then takes this information and, in times of high volume, will move texters up or down in the cue to ensure people with the most need are supported first. With every conversation Crisis Text Line powered by Kids Help Phone adds to their keyword database and thus continuously improves its ability to triage texters in crisis. This is no different than Facebook or Netflix learning more about it’s users through ‘likes’ and shopping habits.

  3. Wide Variety of Helplines Across the Country
    Throughout the consultation there were several opportunities to connect with other delegates and learn more about services available to young people across Canada. There were two services that I wanted to highlight as they provide very specialized services.

    Naseeha Youth Helpline- 1 866 NASEEHA
    Naseeha provides an anonymous, non-judgemental, confidential and toll-free peer support helpline to listen to and be there for youth experiencing personal challenges and to support them in working through those challenges. Although Naseeha provides supports to anyone regardless of age, race, gender or ethnicity they do specialize in supporting people in the Muslim Community. They use a peer to peer support model that focuses on providing a connection to help validate the challenges people are going through because of their mental health. Naseeha believes in a holistic approach through active listening and nurturing dialogue to build strength and inspire hope. To learn more about Naseeha visit www.naseeha.org.
    Eskasoni Mental Health Services - 1 855 379 2099
    Eskasoni Mental Health Services (EMHS) provides a wide range of services to the Mi’kmaq people of Eskasoni, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. EMHS is a not-for-profit organization established in 1991 and has evolved and grown with the help of the community and a variety of funding sources. They believe that access to essential services and culturally appropriate programs is a right and not a privilege; it is this fundamental principle that the services are developed and provided.

    One service that they provide is their 24-hour crisis intervention and support phone line to Mi’kmaw people in Eskasoni. This crisis support is available through Facebook, in person or through their Crisis Line.  Visit https://www.eskasonimentalhealth.org to learn more about the various supports Eskasoni Mental Health Services provides.

Although I have mostly focused on supports available here in Canada I also had a chance to connect with delegates from The United States of America, Czech Republic, Sri Lanka and the Netherlands, just to name a few.  It was interesting to hear from each one of them, the similarities and differences of each countries systems and how they use technology to support young people in crisis. The most important commonality between all delegates was to support youth in a way that works for them.  

With over 24 million calls worldwide it is clear that Child Helplines play a valuable role in supporting children and youth during their most vulnerable time. I look forward to seeing the evolution of Child Helplines worldwide so they can support more young people when, where and how they want to be supported.