The Danish Helpline “BørneTelefonen” uses a lot of different technologies and media to reach different target groups: toll-free telephone lines, SMS text messaging, and a website where children can chat and give each other advice. And if that wasn’t a enough, they’ve also just launched a YouTube channel.
Like most European helplines, BørneTelefonen uses the 116111 number, which is free of charge and “invisible” on the phone bill when a child calls 116111. A lot of children choose to contact the helpline through the chat which is integrated into their website, so that when choosing which topic they want to chat with a counsellor about, the child automatically gets a wide selection of different tools for “self-help” on screen while they’re waiting. The chat is more popular than calling 116111. Since 2012 children have also been able to send text messages to 116111. A whole different method is required for counselling in this way, and BørneTelefonen has developed a sophisticated dialogue system for the counsellors to handle SMS conversations. Their counsellors are trained to use the written word in ways that empower children, and there is even a PhD project going on, analysing the conversations and how they impact the children’s lives. The SMS conversations tend to be about more severe topics such as self-harm, suicidal thoughts, abuse, loneliness and anxiety. Children say they feel more anonymous when texting and chatting, and of course because it’s not dependent on an internet connection the SMS service can be used anywhere, anytime – BørneTelefonen’s colleagues in Greenland just implemented the same system, since internet is expensive there, and chat wouldn’t be an option.
The child helpline’s website is a good example of how children can get help from a distance – by reading through other children’s life stories and problems, or seeing how they get advice from a counsellor – and use this as an inspiration in their own lives. By now there are 20 000 letters online about different topics. Children find the letters by googling their problems. A user survey on the website asks them whether they could use the letter in their own life, and 70% say they find the letters very helpful. The helpline also sends user surveys to the children who send the letters and get replies from the counsellor. They are even more content with the service than the children who use chat and SMS. The children value the personal answer they get from a counsellor very highly.
There’s also a special “forum” on the website where children can send letters and get advice from other children instead of counsellors. This is preferred by a lot of children and teens when it comes to topics like love, friendship, gender and sex, for example. All comments are moderated to make sure it remains a safe environment for the children to post their personal thoughts. Between five and ten letters are published each week, and children can give advice to each other anonymously. This has proven to be very popular, both with the children who send in letters or give advice, and those just visiting the website.
Last, but by no means least, BørneTelefonen have just launched a Youtube channel called SPURGT. The channel has a very narrow target audience (boys aged between 12 and 14) and thus has a wide impact, something they learned from Google and other experts who helped to create the concept. Every second week a 6-8 minute video is posted of a panel of children discussing a letter from the “children help children” section of the helpline website. And in every episode a Danish celebrity gives advice as well. Each episode ends with the children summing up the three best pieces of advice. The service hasn’t been evaluated yet, since it’s so new, but it does get good feedback from children, and it’s a technique BørneTelefonen recommends other helplines try out, although they strongly advise them to develop concepts together with children and experts.