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20 Years, 20 Voices: Childhelp USA

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2023 marks the 20th Anniversary of Child Helpline International. To celebrate this momentous occasion, we have invited 20 of our members – from all around the world, founding members and members who have recently joined us – to share their stories in a special series that will run between now and World Children’s Day on 20 November 2023.

USA: CHILDHELP
NATIONAL CHILD ABUSE HOTLINE

The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline has been supporting children and young people through helpline services for over 40 years, and is the only one in the USA with a primary focus of child abuse and neglect issues.

We offer confidential crisis counseling, education, and referrals to local community resources for ongoing support. The helpline is staffed by professional counsellors and our framework is one that is non-judgmental and based on an evidence-informed practice model.

The helpline world has significantly changed in 40 years, first starting with phone calls only, taking notes with pencil and paper, and finding resources in large phone books. 

Recently, over the past five years, our helpline has more deeply explored ways in which to inform services through research, understanding the issues that youth face through establishing a Youth Advisory Committee, and recognizing how technology can assist us in serving better, and even remotely in times where service would have been otherwise disrupted – yet also realizing that our front line teams will always be needed for the human connection that cannot be replicated by AI. 

We have also prioritized the care of our front line teams to ensure they get the support they need in their challenging roles.  Many of these initiatives began from inspiration of the Child Helpline International community.

Childhelp has been involved with Child Helpline International for more than a decade, and has found the group to be an exceptional global support system. I have been with Childhelp since 2001, beginning first as a frontline counsellor supporting youth through phone calls. I became involved with Child Helpline International in 2012 as Childhelp’s Director, and had the opportunity to attend my first International Consultation (IC) in Toronto. The experience of connecting with so many others in the field from around the world sparked inspiring conversations and ideas to create further growth and development of our helpline – and hopefully we were able to provide some of the same to others. Key takeaways from this IC led to integrating more technology into our service, and included Childhelp becoming a participant in the pilot of Aselo.  During this time our helpline was also in the process of implementing text and chat services, and found great value in talking with other helplines who were further along in offering these services to youth.

Many years passed before the next IC in Stockholm due to Covid-19, but it was another amazing time to reconnect with colleagues, meet new colleagues, and hear new and innovate ways they were working to bring high quality services to youth. It was a welcome reminder of just how much we become better because of our membership.  Of particular interest for us at this IC was the sharing of information about partnerships between researchers and helplines, as that is an area our hotline began exploring in recent years. 

My hope for Child Helpline International’s network is to continue to offer opportunities to connect in person, support one another in learning and research endeavours, and to make us all better together so we can provide the highest quality services to the children and young people we serve. The work we do matters – we are making a difference in the life of each and every person that reaches out – which is an absolute privilege. It certainly has also brought me incredible professional growth, as well as our helpline.  I am excited to see what the future holds child for helplines around the world.

Michelle Fingerman
Vice President, National Programs,
Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline

Voices of Children and Young People

“I’m scared, and I feel it’s all my own fault that I’ve been abused…”

A chat came in from a 15-year-old girl disclosing sexual abuse by a coach on an out-of-town athletic trip.  She was reaching out via chat because she was sharing a room with a teammate, and this happened to be shortly after the helpline launched chat services. She was scared, and felt like the abuse was her fault. She shared that she was aiming for a university scholarship, as her family could not otherwise afford to send her, so she did not know if she wanted to tell anyone about the abuse. The helpline was able to support her during this critical time, and she may not have reached out if chat was not available.  The chat was also at a time where abuse in athletics was just coming to light. These conversations are complicated, and the impact that helplines can have on each individual life is great. It is an absolute privilege to support and guide young people in their time of need.

“I’m concerned about a member of my family  being abused … especially because this is what happened to me when I was a child, as well…”

Child abuse can have a lifelong impact, and helplines often play a significant role in supporting adult survivors of abuse.  A 38-year-old woman called the helpline to talk through a situation of concern about a young family member living in an abusive environment.  The counsellor was able to provide information and education about next steps for this caller, as well as support the woman who was feeling quite overwhelmed about the situation she had just learned about. At the end of the call, the woman disclosed that she was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse from age 5 to 7.  She never spoke of the trauma until she began therapy at age 30.  She was extremely grateful for the children helplines serve, as well as others concerned about children, and especially survivors of abuse …. even decades later.