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National Council on Problem Gambling Conference Recap

Donna and Eliisa recently attended the Pre-Conference symposium at the 28th National Council on Problem Gambling Conference in Orlando, FL at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. Members of our team attend conferences like this to ensure that we are on the cutting edge of the issues, challenges and experiences that helplines face.

The Florida Gambling Affiliate hosted the event. We’re happy to have just welcomed them to the iCarol family, as they went live on iCarol July 1st with phone, text and chat. One staff member said “iCarol has made my life much easier.” We love that feedback! It’s always great to hear that folks are finding their volunteer experience made easier or more enjoyable by using iCarol.

Brian Kongsvik is the Helpline Director and he did an excellent presentation on how his helpline works and the outcomes and follow up research of those that had contacted their helpline services. He reported that in his center, 79% indicated they had either stopped or decreased gambling since contacting their helpline services.

Eliisa Brian Donna

The breakout sessions gave us lots of great insight and presentations from a spectrum of sources. Donna from iCarol gave a presentation on chat and texting as well as the importance of integrated technologies. Anyone who has ever managed a helpline knows how easy it is to fall into the trap of using quick technology fixes to get by day by day. At the surface, you think it doesn’t cost you anything to do a quick update on a computer here and there, or utilize someone’s expertise to add a field into a form quickly, but soon you find yourself only able to do the report you need on one computer in the office and using a multi-step process utilizing many people every month just to do your routine monthly reports. The group was actively engaged, and for some the story of this vicious cycle hit a little too close to home! Integrated technologies like iCarol can help stop this cycle.

Donna Burrow presentation icarol NCPG conf 7-9-14

Bensinger, Dupont & Associates did a demo of iCarol’s live chat feature, which they use for several problem gambling live chat sites around the country. They noted they like the customizable programming to fit their unique needs.

Peer support networks and websites that people are accessing for help with problem gambling, other than calling, texting, and live chatting into helpline services, were discussed. Experts include GamTalk (Canada) and Gambling Therapy (UK). Both offer services run by licensed mental health professionals, with peer support from those in recovery from gambling addiction. These organizations offer a community (often anonymously) whereby they can build support communities around them.

The group also discussed the decrease of phone calls across the country to problem gambling helplines in the US. Among all the addictions, it was noted that those with a gambling addiction have the highest completed suicide rate among any other addiction. As such, those attending the pre-conference were fortunate to be given an opportunity to be trained in QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer). Best practices in advertising were shared, with some noting that billboards near casinos work well.

Unfortunately some heavy rain moved the welcome reception sponsored by the Seminole Tribe of Florida indoors instead of outside by the gorgeous pool area, but it didn’t detract the crowd or the fun. We had such a great time meeting so many of you from the various NCPG affiliates and gambling helplines. And of course to the new friends we made if you want to learn more about iCarol we’d love to hear from you. Give us a call, or join an upcoming webinar to learn more about us and our features.

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How Agency, Program, and Site structure displays

In iCarol, we offer a resource structure, or hierarchy, called Agency, Program, Site. If you’d like to learn more about this structure, you can download our guide about this information. The Agency – Program – Site hierarchy in iCarol follows the structure recommended by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) and is most often used by those agencies using the AIRS taxonomy. Using this structure, at the 3rd or 4th level, (the 4th level being programatsite), has an effect on which information is displayed when viewing agency and program records within iCarol.

An agency is a legally recognized organization that delivers services. (edit screen identified by a grey ribbon) The agency is the main location of the resource where the administrative functions occur, where the organization’s director is generally housed and where it is licensed for business. An agency may or may not deliver direct services from this location.

Sites are the physical locations (eg. branches) from which clients access services provided by an agency. (edit screen identified by blue ribbon) If only one locations exists, all information may be stored in the agency record. If multiple sites exist, then ALL information recommended for Site must be stored there, since those fields will be displayed instead of the agency version.

The display hierarchy is: Program-at-Site (if using) Site / Program (if using)/ Agency (if a piece of information exists at all three levels, Site info will display

A service/program record describes the types of assistance/service an agency delivers to its clients. (edit screen identified by green ribbon) If only one program exists for an agency, all information may be stored in the agency record for that resource.

Program-at-Site contains specific details about a program that are available at a site. (edit screen identified by beige ribbon)

It is helpful to understand what information from which type of record (agency, program, site or programatsite) will display so you can made educated decisions on what information to place in each record so that referrals given to your callers as an accurate as possible.

Our Support Team can provide you with an Excel document that shows what information will be displayed when viewing agency and program records. There are two tabs in the Excel document, one for those using the three level hierarchy (agency, program, site), and one for those using the 4 level hierarchy (agency, program, site, programatsite). If you’d like us to send you this document, please open a Case with support using the Case Management tool found in the Help section of your iCarol system.

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Calculating your resource database’s “complexity”

We mentioned recently that at this year’s AIRS conference a workshop called Resource Database Assembly: The Next Generation provided some inspiration in making a measurement available within iCarol that calculates the complexity of your resource database. We have now added this tool to iCarol.

Resource Complexity is a concept first suggested by several AIRS luminaries. By using approximations, it is used to calculate how complex your resource database is and how many hours per year it would take to manage them using the AIRS standards. For each Agency record, it gets 1 point for every Site record and 2 points for every Program record belonging to it. The Agencies are then grouped by their point score into the following categories:

Simple: 0-10 points
Moderate: 11-20 points
Difficult: 21-40 points
Complex: 41 points and higher

Once grouped and counted, you then assume an average number of hours per year for a trained worker to manage those resources, as follows:

Simple: 1-5 hours (average of 2.5 hours)
Moderate: 5-10 hours (average of 7.5 hours)
Difficult: 10-20 hours (average of 15 hours)
Complex: 20-40 hours (average of 30 hours)

With the total number of hours calculated to manage your entire database, you can then estimate how many Full Time Equivalent employees you may need to manage your database. There are 2,080 hours in a standard work year (40 hours per week for 52 weeks) but the hours available to an employee are usually less than that to account for vacation, sick days, training, meetings and other administrative work that will reduce their hours available to do resource database management.

Resource Complexity

To use this tool, simply navigate to Statistics and click on the Resources tab. The values for the assumptions of Resource Database Complexity described earlier obviously greatly affect the calculations. They have been in use by a major US 211 center since 2009, who claim they very accurately predict workload. Your own results may vary. If you would like this tool to allow you to modify these assumptions, you can contact our Support team using the Case Management tool found in the Help section of your iCarol system.

A large chunk of time spent managing records according to AIRS standards involves keeping those resources up-to-date. When records are regularly checked for accuracy and updated, you know your clients are receiving helpful, good information. This reduces the frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed experienced by those who may already be in crisis or an otherwise difficult situation. Even a database full of records rated as “simple” will take thousands of work hours to manage.

If you check your database’s complexity and feel overwhelmed at the number of hours it may take to keep your database in check, then it’s time to consider iCarol’s Automated Verification tool. With this upgrade you can seek out the resource records that need to be verified using the same search tools as you would to give referrals, with the additional tool of date parameters showing when the records were last verified. Next, automatically send an authorized worker of that agency or program an email asking them to review the information you have on file and make suggestions or updates. They’ll be given a peek at the information as it exists in your live database so they can make those suggestions. Finally, your Resource Manager can review this information and choose to accept what’s been submitted or make some of their own tweaks first, and then apply the update to the resource record. What might have taken weeks of phone tag to accomplish has been squashed down to a fraction of the time. To find out more about Automated Verification and how it can assist you with keeping your resources updated, sign in to your iCarol system and check out the video.

We hope you enjoy this new ability to view the complexity of the resources in your iCarol database and that it helps you analyze your staffing needs pertaining to keeping your Resource Database accurate and up-to-date.

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Exporting a subset of your referral database to Word and Excel

Often times our clients who do Information & Referral (I&R) need to export some or all of their resource or referral database to share with a third party. And while all Admins have access to the Data Export tool that gives them an Excel-readable export of all records and all fields, a more refined approach is needed for specific requests. For example, you might need to create a nicely formatted Microsoft Word document of just the Child Day Care providers in a particular city and just with a handful of informational fields. Or you might need to create an Excel listing of Food Pantries that serve Veterans in a three-county area. As well, you need to produce both of these files once per month and distribute them to your partners.

You can imagine that laboriously exporting all of your resource data and then laboriously removing fields and rows, then formatting it just the way you want to, could be very time consuming – especially if you have to do it on an ongoing basis.

That’s where iCarol’s Specialized Resource Exports to Word and Excel comes to the rescue. With it, you can create an unlimited number of “templates” with a targeted set of conditions and formatting to export just the resource data you want to Word or Excel, and have it formatted in the font type and size of your choice.

You start by naming a new template, choosing either Word or Excel, and indicating what record types (Agency, Program, Site) you want to be included.

Template summary

Next you specify which standard and custom fields you want included.

specify fields

Then you add any filters you would like to limit the exported records. Geographic filters indicate that records physically located within, or that are designated to serve, one or more areas are the records to be included. These areas can be as small as single postal codes, towns, cities, counties, regions, states/provinces or entire countries. You can even mix and match a number of different types of geographic areas.

Depending on what sort of categorization scheme you use – the AIRS Taxonomy or your own custom categorization – you can also add filters to include only those resources that area assigned to one or more of those categories.

Categorization

In addition to the many standard fields available for resources in iCarol, many of our clients add their own custom fields. For any that are either drop-down lists or check-boxes, they too can be added as filters to confine the resources included in the export down to just those assigned to one or more of these custom fields.

After you’ve saved one of these templates, at any time you can tell iCarol to perform an export based on its definition and within a few minutes you’ll have the file ready for your download, use and distribution. As well, we’ve structured the Word documents to make it easy for you to add your own title pages, tables of content, indexes, headers, footers and more. That makes it easy to include the content in a larger document and brand it with your agency’s identifying information.

Final export

If you’d like to add Specialized Resource Exports to your iCarol system and provide your community with targeted resource directories, contact our for more information.

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Introducing iCarol Folksonomy

When people in the public are searching your public website for a resource that can help them, it can sometimes lead to frustration that they are getting no results. When you look closer at how they are searching, it becomes clear that they aren’t familiar with the way that resources are named or categorized. In other words, they are expressing a need, like “I am hungry” but the resources in your database are represented as services, like “Food pantries”.

In fact in commonly used categorization schemes, such as the AIRS Taxonomy or a custom categorization scheme built directly by your helpline, you won’t find the word “hungry” in any of the categories, terms or definitions. Multiply this by all the possible needs people have, and you can quickly see how a great deal of the population won’t get connected to valuable services. Other example searches are “I need a ride to work”, “My family needs a place to stay” and “I lost my job yesterday”.

So how can these help seekers, who are expressing a need, be connected with the services that can assist them? Clearly, we need to build a bridge between the two approaches. The solution we’re employing in iCarol’s Public Resource Directory is called the Folksonomy (an intentional mashup of the word Folk, as in “colloquial”, and Taxonomy).

In a nutshell, it helps find results if the search did not match an Agency or Program name, a taxonomy term or the officially defined synonyms for taxonomy terms (called “use references”). It does this by picking up colloquial words or phrases in a search and corresponds them to taxonomy terms, and then performs the search for resources assigned to those taxonomy terms.

A perfect example would be if someone typed “I am really hungry” into the search box. The Folksonomy fills the gap that normally would be mediated by a helpline’s phone worker on a call by connecting the expressed need to one or more taxonomy terms, like Food Pantries and Ongoing Emergency Food Assistance.

We have been testing this approach with clients and it is yielding exceedingly good results. Those clients also have an administrative interface to find recent searches yielding no results, and then to make Folksonomy entries so that future such searches will instead yield the right results.

Here is a scenario where the word “ride” is a Folksonomy entry corresponding to several taxonomy terms. If you had performed this search before we implemented the Folksonomy you would have gotten zero results. Instead you now get a number of transportation-related resources:

Folksonomy

By building that bridge between the layman’s terms used by your web visitors and the detailed categorization of the 211 Taxonomy, iCarol’s Folksonomy will greatly improve the ability for your Public Resource Directory searchers to find what they are looking for and ultimately get the services they need.

We’ll have more information to share about implementing iCarol’s Folksonomy in the coming weeks. Want to learn more about managing your Resources with iCarol? Join us for our Resource Management Webinar on May 20th at 2pm EST.

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Collaborate with partners: Load balance chats between organizations

We have an exciting new capability to share with iCarol Messaging subscribers. You can now allow a partner center, or multiple centers, to take chats for you from within their own iCarol system.

Collaborating w partnersThis new ability is transparent to visitors; they will not be aware of which center is taking the chat session. Visitors will still click on your familiar Chat Now button on your website and will see your prechat survey. But during times you designate, both you and your partner center will see those visitors come in to each of your messaging queues. As usual, safeguards are in place so two people don’t accidentally take the same chat. Both centers will have access to submitted call report forms and associated real-time statistics.

The possibilities here are endless. It’s ideal for handling overflow in a disaster situation. Watch your messaging queue grow shorter and become more manageable as your partner agency takes some of your chats. You can use this feature to handle after-hours messaging visitors. Because iCarol centers are found in multiple time zones, after-hours for you might be prime time for another center, and your partner could take all of your after-hours chats. This lets you expand your hours of service without trying to staff shifts during hard-to-staff hours. Want to get really fancy? You could even designate multiple centers to handle chats that come in to a central iCarol system, effectively creating a consortium of chat centers where no single center feels overburdened or underutilized. Every partner center sees all chats and takes chats when they can — it’s load balancing at its finest. Each partner center could have their own hours of service, too, and you’d get real-time statistics.

If you’re interested but don’t have a partner center in mind, feel free to post a message on the iCarol User Community on the Dashboard to find your perfect match. We can see it now: Single Crisis Center on East Coast seeks same on West Coast for meaningful after-hours relationship…looking for good listening skills, compassion, and ability to read between the lines. 🙂

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iCarol Helps You Go Green

At iCarol we’re delighted that our tools assist helplines in saving time and money, but we also care deeply about our impact on the environment. This Earth Day we’d like to highlight some of the ways that iCarol helps you go green.

1. Storing your volunteer and call data online with iCarol means reducing the need to print and store physical files, saving you paper and space

2. Online shift scheduling provides realtime updates so you don’t have to print or email new versions of your shift calendar with each change or picked up shift

3. Use the News feature to eliminate the need to print and post memos in the call center

4. iCarol gives your organization more options for workers to complete tasks at home which means fewer vehicles on the road

5. You can note in a resource record the bus line or transit options for a resource making it easier for someone to consider public transit instead of driving

6. Your Public Resource Directory allows the public to search, save, and map the resources they need so they can get what they want quickly and know where they are going

7. Specialized Exports create a Word or Excel file of just the resources you need and none of the ones you don’t

8. Automated Verification removes the need to mail or fax update requests

9. The electronic feedback loop in call reports eliminates the need for printed notes or other correspondence for feedback

10. When using a Call Report as an intake form that will be passed off to another agency, you can use the PDF feature to email the call report instead of printing it

How has iCarol helped you go green? Leave us a comment!

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5 Questions to ask during volunteer interviews

Vols-StaffThe volunteer screening and application process serves a dual purpose. It gives the helpline manager the opportunity to meet the volunteer and evaluate their ability to work on the helpline. For the volunteer it can be a discovery meeting where they learn more about the realities of helpline volunteerism. For both parties it’s a major step in deciding if the volunteer will move to the next stage.

Most helplines have a well-established list of questions to ask, but we’d like to offer these for your consideration…

1. Why do you think you’d be a good fit for our helpline? – The responses to this question let your volunteer share their qualities, but they’ll also reveal their preconceptions about what it’s like to work on a helpline. Portrayals in movies, television, or commonly held beliefs about crisis work tend to permeate volunteer expectations. Someone might answer, “I think I could give great advice.” This may open the door for you to talk about the reality of the work you do at the helpline. Perhaps you don’t give advice but rather listen to the caller, talk through their options, and let the caller ultimately decide what they’ll do. The volunteer will appreciate the chance to learn about what they can really expect when working on the helpline as opposed to what they’ve been imagining it’d be like.

2. Are you comfortable being observed and receiving feedback? – There’s a good chance your call center is a place where several people are working together at once, often times in close quarters. Your workers may routinely be right there observing their partner’s calls and giving peer feedback afterward. They can also expect to receive feedback from supervisors. New volunteers should be prepared for the work environment and know that feedback isn’t about someone else being critical of their work, but rather it’s intended to help them be successful and better serve the callers. For some, the prospect of regular observation and evaluation may be more than they were expecting.

3. Can you think on your feet? – Quick thinking is an essential quality for any helpline volunteer. The tone of a call can change in an instant and a skilled volunteer will pick up on hints at suicide and know how to proceed. You never know when a caller might say or ask something that takes you by surprise, and the ability to come back with a quick response will ensure the volunteer is always ready and in control of the situation. Not all volunteers will know how to hit the curveballs.

4. Are you a good detective? – You might not immediately think of investigative skills as being important to helpline work, but they’ll come in handy. You can’t just hear, you have to listen, and sometimes that means discovering more than what’s being revealed on the surface. In talking with a caller, sometimes it takes the right methods of reflection and questioning to get to the core of what’s going on for the caller and how the volunteer can help. Searching for the right referrals for a caller can also take some sleuthing and creativity especially when resources are limited or the caller isn’t eligible for services. Thinking outside the box and coming up with ideas and alternatives is a useful skill to have.

5. Do you need to see results to feel like you accomplished something? – New volunteers may be disappointed to find that after spending an hour talking a caller through a problem, that same person may call back in a month, still experiencing the same issue. And for callers who live with chronic and persistent mental illness, each day may come with a similar set of challenges, routines, and coping skills. Helpline workers aren’t always going to see huge changes and immediate positive turnarounds. In many cases, you never even know how it all turned out. The miracle success stories may be few and far between. This doesn’t mean, however, that the work you do isn’t helpful. Often in the helpline world, we need to re-frame our expectations and what we see as “success.” For some callers, just making it through the hour is successful. That hour spent on the line was an hour they didn’t feel as lonely, and it provided them with the boost they needed to get through the evening. If a volunteer needs to see more apparent success in order for them to feel like they had an impact, helpline work may leave them feeling burnt out and disappointed.

There’s a lot to consider when vetting a prospective volunteer. These questions may help both you and the volunteer further evaluate their desire, readiness, and natural abilities to determine whether they’ll end up joining your organization.

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iCarol to present workshop on Online Emotional Support at AAS Conference

We’re gearing up for the American Association of Suicidology’s 47th Annual Conference in Los Angeles! We’re looking forward to seeing so many of our friends and colleagues there; it’s always a great chance to catch up with everyone in the helpline and suicide prevention industry.

This year iCarol is particularly excited to present a special lunch session on Friday April 11th. Our workshop is
Chat, Texting, Mobile and Social: A look at today and the future of online emotional support with iCarol.

WebinarsWith every passing year, the use of new channels to seek help continues to expand. Join this session to help your crisis center evaluate these channels, determine your next steps and plan your technology choices to adapt to the evolving Online Emotional Support (OES) landscape. You’ll hear from your peers and technology experts about the best way to get started serving people interactively using the electronically written, rather than the spoken word.Smart Phone  with two thumbs

Adding new channels by which your clients can reach you can be intimidating and may leave you with a lot of questions. We hope to answer the questions you may have about these new technologies and give you confidence to embark on this new and exciting path with the tools iCarol has developed. We hope you’ll join us for this session at AAS! Not attending the conference but still want to learn more about our Online Emotional Support capabilities? Sign up for a webinar!

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211 and the United Way Promote Free Tax Preparation

US 211

Americans have less than a month left until the April 15th deadline by which they must file their federal and state tax returns. This can be a stressful and costly event for American families. Some choose to brave the mountains of forms and instructional packets on their own. Others use DIY software to guide them, while many pay a professional to make the calculations and filings on their behalf. Committed to improving financial stability, the United Way in partnership with 211 call centers all across the country are trying to alert eligible citizens of another option.

Depending mostly upon income and the types of forms to be filed, many may qualify for free tax preparation services. By dialing 2-1-1 they can learn more about their eligibility or participating tax preparation sites in their area. These tax preparation sites use volunteers who have gone through extensive training to be volunteer tax preparers. People can also visit MyFreeTaxes.com to go through the filing process online.

It’s also important that eligible families take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a credit which helps low-wage families and can assist in lifting families out of poverty. Unfortunately an estimated 20% of eligible Americans don’t claim this credit, but the United Way is looking to change that through their awareness programs.

Going a step further, the United Way and the MyFreeTaxes.com site educate Americans on ways they can maximize their refund by purchasing savings bonds, opening a savings account, paying overdue bills, paying down debt, or contributing to their household emergency savings fund. All of these wise uses of tax refunds contribute to the goal of financial stability in communities across the US.

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