Operating a helpline for children during quarantine – Insights from the Safety Line

Like many helplines from the Insafe network established throughout Europe, the Czech helpline the Safety Line has seen its activities considerably altered during the pandemic and as a consequence of the restrictive measures taken in the Czech Republic. In the interview transcript below, the helpline reflects on its operations since March and the trends noticed during the crisis.

Date 2020-12-15 Author Czech Safer Internet Centre Section helplines Topic love, relationships, sexuality (online) Audience parents and carers, research, policy and decision makers, teachers, educators and professionals
Middle aged woman wearing headsets, holding a pen and looking at her computer screen

In times of emergency, children can face family problems, feelings of loneliness or depression. More and more users now turn to the Safety Line to discuss these issues. Many parents also call to discuss the psychological issues their children are dealing with. This follows from the data provided by Regina Jandová, a spokeswoman for the non-profit organisation, to the ČT24 website. Besides, the operations of the Safety Line are further complicated by quarantine or illness of employees.

"Currently, the most frequent topics reported are relationships with friends, suicidal thoughts, self-harm and questions about sexual issues" said spokeswoman Jandová. In addition, according to her, the questions reflect the exceptional measures and the associated limitations and uncertainties.

However, the restrictive measures also complicate the work of the Safety Line's consultants. "They face limitations and a different functioning of the follow-up services, such as psychologists, medical care or social services for families with children, to which callers naturally go if they need more support than we are able to offer them", Jandová said.

In an emergency, children are more likely to deal with mental health problems

While in October 2019, the crisis centre registered 26 contacts due to anxiety, in 2020, the number has more than doubled, reaching 56. The reason for the more frequent need to deal with anxiety is, according to the social worker of the Safety Line Lucie Zelenková, that children cannot meet his friends or grandparents.

Counselors also dealt with self-harm in children and adolescents significantly more often. While in October 2019 they dealt with the problem 93 times, in 2020 the number climbed to 121 in the same period.

"Fear for your health or that of your loved ones is difficult to deal with, even for a person whose personality has already been formed and is doing well mentally. Children, especially the most fragile, who have not yet managed to form some ways of coping with stress, are then very vulnerable“ added the employee of the Safety Line.

In October 2020, 84 children and young people asked for help in dealing with depression and sadness, which is 22 more than the previous year. Parents also perceive these problems in their children themselves and contact the Parental Line, which is operated by the crisis centre. "Currently, our parents contact us with topics of mental problems in children, such as depression, anxiety, aggression", Jandová said.

The most common problem that parents must face in the current crisis concerns education, in particular when there are learning difficulties or conflicts in the family. However, in contrast to the spring emergency, the total number of inquiries on the Parental Line has decreased.

"We have not yet seen a significant increase in the number of calls, in contrast to the emergency situation in the spring, when the number of calls was up to double compared to last year. At that time, the main reason for parents to contact us was the topic of handing over children within post-divorce care arrangements“.

The operation of the Safety Line is complicated by the restrictive measures taken to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Consequently, the Safety Line currently records a lower number of phone calls. This can be explained by the necessary restrictions on the number of workers on the shift, the quarantine of employees or the drawing of nursing allowances due to closed schools. Despite the complications, the organisation maintains a non-stop operation. "If I compare it with October 2019, the number of calls on our phone number dropped from 12,917 to 9,191 this year”. In October 2019, the Safety Line answered 265 queries via email and 238 via the chat, compared to 253 via email and 299 via chat in October 2020. 

The Safety Line dealt with fewer problems related to relationships – the number dropped from 306 in October 2019 to 236 in October 2020. There were also fewer queries about relationships with friends, from 325 in October 2019 to 213 in 2020.

Online services increased in the spring. In April, 304 questions were answered by email, and there were 554 chats. At that time, the organisation extended the chat's operating hours from 8 to 12 hours.

At the end of September, the organisation used the increasingly used online environment to launch its own podcast called “On the Thin Line”. As explained by Jandová, "the goal is to talk openly about the topics that children and teenagers contact us about. The podcast is designed to guide the students through questions on the basic issues related to the topic, outline what is happening and why, and how to proceed towards the solution. The podcast is being prepared by a team of experts from the Safety Line led by Radka Liebezeitová, who, in addition to the Safety Line, also works at a school for children with combined disabilities and runs her own therapeutic practice".

Background information about the Safety Line

Established in September 1994, the Safety Line is the oldest and the best-known children helpline in the Czech Republic. It provides continuous assistance through telephone, email and chat to children and young people. Given the scope of services and their availability, it is the only service of its kind in the country. 

The Safety Line is a member of the Child Helpline International network, the Association of Social Service Providers and the Czech Association of Helpline Workers. Its daily operations are enabled by over 100 highly trained professionals. 

An integral part of Safety Line is a Parent Line providing direct crisis intervention and counselling to parents, teachers, carers and the others involved. At the same time, Safety Line actively contributes to the safety awareness raising through its own campaigns. 

Safety Line is also involved in lecturing and educational activities. It does so in two ways: throughout accredited courses for professionals involved in social services and via lecturing at schools. School activities are run to prepare kids to deal with risky life situations and to raise awareness of the services they can use. 

Safety Line takes care of the Czech Safer Internet Centre (SIC)’s helpline and actively contributes throughout most of the activities. Among others, a series of conferences and educational activities covering online safety will take place under its patronage. 

Find out more about the work of the Czech Safer Internet Centre, including their awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

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