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Core Quality Standards

Framework for Child Helplines

Celebrating Differences, Strengthening Shared Purposes

One of the fundamental strengths of a child helpline is its ability to adapt and respond to the unique needs of the children and young people it serves. Children display a range of differences due to different cultural backgrounds, gender, family systems, and specific vulnerabilities and risks. Thus, child helplines come in many shapes and forms to provide an effective support system for the children they respond to.  

On the other hand, there is a great commonality between child helplines worldwide. All child helplines aim to fulfil children’s fundamental needs, such as connecting and feeling heard and valued. In understanding these common objectives, child helplines are stronger together. 

The Purpose and Benefits of Core Quality Standards

Our Core Quality Standards (CQS) are founded on the shared principles and goals that underpin all child helplines and were developed in order to support our network members. By establishing these standards, we aim to provide a valuable reflective tool and a reference point for quality management for child helplines. In particular, the framework offers guidance in properly allocating resources to enhance services and operations, ensuring that the organization can provide high-quality responses to children. 

Member-Driven Development of Core Quality Standards

The development of our Core Quality Standards is a collaborative effort with our members. Since 2006, we have engaged in multiple consultations, actively seeking input and insights from our members. Through these extensive conversations, we collectively identified nine core functions that define the essential aspects of a child helpline. According to our framework, high-quality child helplines are: 

1. Rights-based;  

2. Advocates for children;  

3. Facilitators of meaningful child and youth participation;  

4. Reliable;  

5. Safe;  

6. Accessible;  

7. Child-centred;  

8. Accountable;  

9. Responsibly and effectively operated in emergency settings.   

Please find below a brief overview of each standard. For the complete CQS Framework, kindly reach out to our Quality, Data, and Research Officer at info@childhelplineinternational.org. 

Standard 1: Rights-Based Approach

The child helpline applies and promotes a rights-based approach to working with children and young people, guided by the principles of children’s rights: rights to survival and development, non-discrimination, best interests, and participation. To guide organizational priorities, target services, and train staff, the helpline conducts or partners with other organizations for regular situation analyses on children’s rights, including gender analysis and consideration of marginalized groups. Staff training includes information on local context, legal status, and rights violations, with explicit or implied reference to child rights. The helpline actively contributes to national, regional, or international efforts to monitor and report on children’s rights, collaborating with human rights reporting mechanisms and publishing its own reports. This includes participating in country reports, engaging with global initiatives, and forming partnerships with parent organizations to ensure the protection and well-being of children. 

Standard 2: Advocates for Children

The child helpline’s second Core Quality Standard focuses on amplifying the voices of children by collecting, collating, and sharing data obtained from contacts made to the child helpline. This includes gathering information on age, gender, and the reason for contact. The child helpline periodically analyzes contact trends, aggregating them by concern or rights violated, age, and other relevant categories to guide strategic reporting and advocacy initiatives. This data-driven trend analysis informs activities such as press releases, campaigns, media involvement of child helpline leadership, and public events. The child helpline actively seeks opportunities to advocate for children’s rights by using their voices to influence domestic policy, legislation, or budget. Additionally, the helpline contributes to the development of national policies, legislation, or budget by participating in public consultations, making recommendations to relevant duty bearers, and engaging in media advocacy. 

Standard 3: Participatory

The third Core Quality Standard of the child helpline emphasizes actively seeking and involving children in various aspects of the child helpline’s initiatives. This includes engaging children in the development, design, monitoring, evaluation, and support of these initiatives. The child helpline conducts child participation activities at least once a year, aiming to meet the highest possible standards outlined in the General Comments to the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s Article 12. The helpline strives to ensure meaningful and ongoing involvement of children, allowing their voices to be heard and considered in decision-making processes.

Standard 4: Reliability

The fourth Core Quality Standard centres around a continuous improvement approach to managing the number of contacts received. The child helpline carefully analyzes the data, specifically the ratio of “dropped/missed calls” to ensure steps are taken to address any issues and ensure that children’s contacts are received. This includes considerations such as staffing rosters, strategic advocacy and awareness activities, scaling up services, and adapting through technology. The child helpline also maintains an updated referral network to connect children in need with relevant and capable service providers, adhering to safeguarding policies and reporting any breaches. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are in place to guide staff in responding reliably and consistently to children’s inquiries about their rights, providing confidentiality, conducting needs assessments, seeking consent, and ensuring safety planning. Additionally, the child helpline has secured funding for ongoing quality services, with adequate funding available for the next 12 months and a reliable plan for the next 24 months or longer. 

Standard 5: Safety – Do Not Harm

The fifth Core Quality Standard focuses on the child helpline’s child safeguarding policies. They have a publicly accessible policy defining harm to children, recognizing expansive definitions of “child” and “harm”, and aligning with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It applies to all staff, establishes expected behaviours and addresses risks. The policy includes independent investigation systems, clear roles, and a Code of Conduct. The child helpline promptly addresses safeguarding concerns and adheres to comprehensive recruitment protocols. Confidentiality policies are maintained, protecting children’s privacy. Secure protocols are in place for data collection and analysis. Qualified supervisors provide support and regular debriefing. The child helpline has a policy for media and communications involving children, prioritizing consent and dignity. 

Standard 6: Accessibility

The sixth Core Quality Standard of the child helpline focuses on actively practising non-discrimination and inclusivity to ensure that all children and young people have access to their services. Operating nationally 24/7 and providing free contacts, the child helpline adopts child-friendly language when explaining their services, confidentiality, safeguarding policies, and other awareness campaigns. They proactively develop strategies to identify and address barriers to access, aiming to provide a secure and accessible service for marginalized groups such as children with disabilities, those speaking minority languages, those in remote areas, Indigenous or First Nations communities, working children, LGBTQI+ identifying children, children in refugee or IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps, and children in other vulnerable situations. 

Standard 7: Child-Centred

The child helpline’s seventh Core Quality Standard emphasizes the importance of counselors responding sensitively and professionally to children’s mental health needs, especially during crises. They receive coaching and development from qualified child mental health professionals, learning evidence-based practices for effective communication with children. The child helpline follows standardized approaches for safety planning, assessing suicide or self-harm risks, and providing support in critical situations. They prioritize diverse staff who reflect the gender and cultural diversity of the children they serve, while maintaining child-friendly attitudes. They actively monitor demographics to ensure representation of various identities, backgrounds, and abilities. If applicable, they offer coordinated, confidential, and child-led case management services with clear policies and procedures. This includes assessing needs, developing collaborative case plans, ensuring timely follow-ups, and maintaining secure information management. 

Standard 8: Accountability

The eighth Core Quality Standard of the child helpline focuses on leadership, planning, finances, human resources, and monitoring to ensure effective service delivery. An advisory group of experts provides oversight and makes informed decisions about the helpline’s plans and budgets. They operate based on an evidence-informed strategic plan, considering input from children and young people. Financial transparency is maintained through audits or government reviews. Human resource policies prioritize staff well-being, including defined roles, workplace safety, and non-discriminatory practices. To improve services, the helpline implements a monitoring and evaluation strategy across counseling, case management, awareness raising, and campaigns. Client evaluations guide staff performance and organizational improvements. By adhering to these standards, the child helpline aims to provide effective support, accountability, inclusivity, and continuous quality enhancement. 

Standard 9: Responsibly and Effectively Managed in Emergencies

The ninth Core Quality Standard emphasizes the responsible and effective management of child helplines during emergencies. The child helpline maintains contingency plans that are periodically updated to address potential emergencies such as natural disasters, pandemics, armed conflicts, and terror attacks. In case of an emergency, the child helpline conducts a timely review to ensure the safety of staff and children, maintain impartiality, coordinate with relevant groups, ensure access to information, and protect data through information management systems. Based on the review, the child helpline develops or amends an action plan and organizes training to address specific needs arising from the crisis. Additionally, where applicable, the child helpline actively participates in the Interagency Standing Committee’s Cluster Coordination System during formal humanitarian responses, sharing data and contributing to the relevant clusters. By being prepared and responsive, the child helpline aims to effectively support children in times of emergencies.

The Core Quality Standards self-assessment survey

 We have developed the Core Quality Standards (CQS) self-assessment survey as an online tool to help child helplines evaluate their adherence to the Core Quality Standards and identify areas where improvements can be made in their functioning. Completing the CQS survey is one of the mandatory requirements for full membership of the Child Helpline International Network.  

The results of the CQS assessment not only benefit our members but also assist us in enhancing our services. We can gain insights into how we can best support our members. As part of this initiative, we are planning to launch a series of e-learning resources related to each CQS. Additionally, we aim to develop a comprehensive list of best practices and provide Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) templates that can inspire and guide our members in their work.