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“It’s a Wonderful Life” and Imagining a World Without Helplines

This blog was originally published in December 2020. As this pandemic rages on, the message remains relevant, and so we’re sharing it with you again to mark the 2021 holiday season.

Content warning: This post discusses sensitive topics such as suicide and abuse.

In a year as strange and relentless as 2020, I needed a sense of normalcy more than ever this holiday season, and that came in the form of my annual viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In years’ past, the film’s theme of suicide prevention struck me most. But like a lot of things, the experience of 2020 placed a new filter over the movie for me, and I started noticing elements that, while always there, hadn’t been as noticeable to me before.

The crises of 2020 were relentless. And when the bad news just keeps coming and it feels there’s no end in sight, no clear solution or relief, it can be easy to fall into total despair. George Bailey experiences this very thing in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George passed on his own dreams so the dreams of others could be realized and those he loved could be happy, and for awhile he appears okay with that. Then a series of crises compound, and old trauma and resentments quickly rise to the surface. George, completely devoid of hope and solutions, is now staring into the icy churning waters of a river flowing beneath him. For all his good deeds and sacrifices, look at how bad things are. What was it all for? He contemplates how the world might be better off if he wasn’t here, or if he never existed at all.

George’s scenario got me thinking about the exhaustive work so many people have been doing all throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, only to have things stay the same, or get worse, day in and day out, with no relief in sight. When there’s no clear impact or positive change to motivate you, to reassure you that your sacrifices and work matters, how do you keep going? How do you resist despair and hopelessness?

I think the answer is similar to what we see in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George can’t see his positive impact until he’s shown a world without him in it. Perhaps we need to briefly imagine what the world would look like without those forces of good working hard to help others.

What would our world look like now if helplines, contact centers, and other community services didn’t exist?

Contact centers and Information and Referral services like 2-1-1 commonly act as their community’s primary source of information about COVID-19, providing information on everything from common symptoms to look for and where to go to get tested. In many cases 2-1-1 became the official state/provincial source of COVID-19 information. Without that centralized information delivery service, health departments, emergency rooms, and medical offices are overwhelmed with people seeking information. Phone lines jam and human resources are syphoned from direct care treating those who are ill. Fewer people know where to get tested. More people get sick, and more lives are lost as a result.

The economic fallout from the pandemic will be with us for some time. Some say the financial recovery may take longer than public health recovery. Thankfully, people looking for financial assistance for their very survival—help with utilities or food—had places to reach. Places where a compassionate and knowledgeable specialist could, in a single interaction, provide ideas and resources that may help with several needs. Without those contact centers, those in need are left feeling lost and overwhelmed. Already worn down by their situation, they must now spend time and effort navigating the network of community services on their own. They don’t know how the systems work. They are frustrated and even more overwhelmed. It takes longer to access assistance. They miss several meals. They only find out about a fraction of the services for which they were eligible.

Quarantines and stay-at-home orders kept people at home more, and for many the people they live with are a source of comfort. For others, it’s a source of conflict or even danger. Suddenly, vulnerable individuals suffering abuse at the hands of a parent or partner, or LGBTQIA youth living with unsupportive family members, were cut off from their daily escapes and support systems. Without services specializing in providing safety and emotional support, they become more isolated. Tensions in the household rise. Abused partners and Queer youth have no professional confidential counseling to access quietly and privately through chats or text messages. There’s no emergency shelter to escape to.

Viruses and physical health have taken center stage this year, but the mental health toll is undeniable. We’ve been going through a collective, worldwide trauma. Everything familiar was disrupted and the entire concept of “normal” disappeared overnight. Many people are experiencing emotions they aren’t sure what to do with, and they aren’t ready to talk to their friends or loved ones. Others lack those connections and are processing things all on their own. Imagine a world without an outlet to help one cope with those feelings. No warmlines or impartial empathetic listeners, no crisis or suicide prevention services. The emotional suffering deepens and spreads, and we lose even more people to a different type of pandemic—suicide—that was present long before COVID-19.

So yes, 2020 was the worst, filled with more crises happening all at once than many of us could have imagined. And in a seemingly never-ending string of challenges, it may feel at times like your contributions, all your exhaustive efforts, aren’t making a dent. If reassurance and evidence of your impact seems elusive, think back to George Bailey’s tour of seedy Pottersville, the bad place version of Bedford Falls. Close your eyes and take a stroll through that scary, imaginary world without organizations like yours, and see that things could actually be much worse. It’s because of the good work of those who care, like you, that it isn’t.

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December Support Training: Referral Q Capacity Tracking and Provider Portal

The iCarol Support Team holds monthly trainings on topics that our customers want more information about. These trainings are offered on the third Wednesday of every month at 2pm Eastern.

Our topic for the December webinar is ReferralQ & Capacity Tracking and Provider Portal features.

ReferralQ and Capacity Tracking enables you to document and track referrals to a particular service that you work closely with, including information such as the service’s capacity to accept referrals. The Provider Portal is a separate product that complements ReferralQ by inviting your partners secure, direct access to view and update authorized ReferralQ information. With the Provider Portal your partners can input their program’s capacity to take referrals, obtain Contact Record or Intake information about the help-seekers referred to them, and update the status of a referred help-seeker as they work with the CBO.

We’re excited to share more information about these products with our customers on our next monthly training webinar!

Date: Wednesday, December 15
Time: 2pm Eastern

During this webinar, participants will learn:

  • What is the ReferralQ & Capacity Tracking feature?
  • What is the Provider Portal feature?
  • How can these features be used together?
  • What are some use cases for the features?

We welcome and encourage our customers to attend! You can find the registration link on the Admin Dashboard or in our Help Center announcements.

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This is a game changer – iCarol’s Resource Database API is now fully bi-directional

iCarol bidirectional resource api

Did you know that iCarol’s Resource Database API is now fully bi-directional?

What does this mean? iCarol Resource database records can now be created and/or updated using the API.

iCarol was a pioneer among the I&R and Contact Center Software vendors with our Resource Database API, which was first released in 2013.

We’ve done it again with these new enhancements that can now be done outside of iCarol, directly into to your iCarol Resource database using the Resource Database API:

  • Update, create, or delete resource records from external software systems
      Save time, increase efficiency, get new records from your partners quicker than ever—when time is of the essence

  • Decide to have new records and updates happen automatically, or as part of an automated verification process
      Maintain necessary control of how you want the partnerships to work, while having flexibility to change quickly as needed

  • And we’ve continued with the ability we’ve always had where you can provide different partners different key access with different permissions

Here are just some possibilities that have been discussed with this new enhancement:

  • Open the door to partnership ideas and revenue streams that were not possible before

  • Feed data to warehouses and/or reporting tools and accept changes to the records in iCarol from those external sources

  • Partner with other referral partners who may be on other information and referral software, in more ways than ever before

  • Allow more options to health and human service partners who need direct access your resource database and need to let you know of new additions and changes themselves

  • Make yourself more marketable to healthcare providers/for healthcare partnerships who may be interested in access to your resource database, and may want easier options to let you know of changes to resources

  • Collaboration, coalition and Community Information Exchange (CIE) efforts can be even more streamlined

An overview of capabilities that have been available for some time with the iCarol Resource API:

iCarol Resource API search details and public comments


And here’s what’s NEW:

iCarol API update method workflow

Now is the perfect time to explore what iCarol’s Bi-direction Resource API can do for your organization and your partners.

Are you a current iCarol user? As we’ve previously shared, our November Support Training is about the API! Join our webinar Wednesday, November 17th at 2:00pm Eastern. Register by signing in to iCarol and opening the iCarol Help Center where the webinar description and registration link is posted as an Announcement.

Get In Touch!

Email Us    Schedule a Meeting

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USA Today: Child care providers grapple with a worker shortage

childcare professional seated at a table playing with children

According to a recently published report in USA Today, the child care industry in the United States has been one of the industries hit hardest by worker shortages. The closing of most day care centers early in the pandemic resulted in over 373,000 employees laid off or furloughed. According to the U.S. Labor Department, the industry has only recovered 70% of its pre-pandemic workforce.

The childcare staff shortage has caused childcare centers to be stretched thin, forced to reduce capacity and often increasing costs for parents and caregivers. Childcare workers bear a heavy workload due to the shortage, and parents unable to find affordable and reliable childcare must often leave the workforce themselves.

Click here to read the full report.

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Reuters: Fate of national daycare in the hands of Canadian voters

three children in a childcare setting seated at a table

When the Coronavirus pandemic forced daycares and schools to close, many Canadians, especially women, had to reduce their work hours or leave their jobs entirely. According to Statistics Canada, more than 48% of Canadian parents struggle to find affordable childcare, leading to 27% delaying their return to work and 41% adjusting their work schedules to accommodate caregiving.

An Angus Reid poll found that more than 70% of Canadians favour a national childcare program. The upcoming election will give Canadians their say on which plan they prefer, with the Liberal Party advocating for government subsidization that results in C$10/day childcare costs for families. The Conservatives prefer offering up to C$6,000 per year to parents to help them pay for childcare costs.

Click here to read the full article.

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Responding to a Mental Health Crisis

Around the nation there are conversations happening about public safety as it pertains to emergency response where it involves situations of mental health crisis. Who are the appropriate entities to respond to 911 calls for someone in a mental health crisis?

Legislation has been introduced in New York State, Daniel’s Law, that would establish both state and regional mental health response councils which would permit mental health professionals to respond to mental health and substance abuse emergencies.

This legislation is modeled after a program in Eugene, Oregon, CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets), developed in 1989, that takes an innovative, community-based public safety approach to provide mental health first response for crises involving mental illness, homelessness, and addiction.

We believe 211s and Crisis Lines are an integral part of this conversation.

We are planning to host a conversation on this topic and would like to hear from you regarding what actions your organizations are currently taking and what kind of additional support iCarol could provide to assist you in responding to 911 calls in these situations.

Please email us if you are interested in sharing your ideas or plans related to this topic, or if you are simply interested in participating in these conversations.

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Happy 2-1-1 Day!

Each year, February 11th is celebrated as 2-1-1 day throughout North America.

2-1-1 is an easy-to-remember three digit number, but unlike 4-1-1 for directory assistance or 9-1-1 for life-threatening emergencies, the focus of 2-1-1 is to provide people with comprehensive information and referral to various human services in their communities.

Rather than spend hours of frustration going it alone calling around to various agencies or surfing the web, help-seekers can make 2-1-1 their first call for assistance and speak to a trained specialist that can spend time evaluating their needs, educating them about resources, and then connect them with the appropriate services. These 2-1-1 agencies widen their reach by making their services available via chat, texting, and integrating their well-curated database of resources into their website. They also build partnerships with other providers by sharing their resource information and making it available to collaborators in a multitude of ways. Of course, iCarol is delighted to help a large percentages of 2-1-1s across Canada and the United States tap into these tools and innovation to help their communities.

The specialists at 2-1-1 are considered some of the unsung heroes of the global Coronavirus pandemic. While they aren’t always highly visible first responders in their communities, they are certainly an integral part of the COVID-19 response. From very early on in the pandemic, 2-1-1 centers have served as community helplines for COVID-19 health information, and provided critical resource information to individuals and families suffering from the economic fallout caused by the Coronavirus. And now as communities are implementing their vaccine roll outs, once again 2-1-1s are often serving as part of that process as well.

iCarol is proud to be working with so many 211 providers whose organizations provide a vital service to their communities by connecting millions of people to essential services each year. If you work at a 2-1-1 and celebrated this day at your helpline, whether it’s just a small occasion or large outreach event, we want to hear from you! Send your stories and photos to me at dgrayson@icarol.com so we can feature them on our blog and share your experiences with our readers and recognize your organization.

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Database Administrator Career Opportunity at 211 Maryland

211 Maryland is currently seeking a candidate to fill the position of Database Administrator.

About the Position:

The Database Administrator oversees the evolution, expansion and maintenance of a statewide resource database that includes health and human service resources available to Marylanders and ensures standards are met by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS). They provide guidance and direction to 211 Maryland Call Center Resource Specialists, volunteers and information and referral specialists on database enhancements, development, and maintenance activities. The Database Administrator leads the creation of new partnerships with other statewide organizations that maintain health and human services databases to reduce duplication in resources and identify new partnerships. They serve as the point of contact for all statewide database requests.

Essential Duties and Responsibilities includes, but are not limited to :

    Database development oversight:
    In tandem with the Operations Director, develops statewide policy/procedures, documents and implements procedures for researching, selecting, classifying, indexing, and updating resource information to assure the accuracy, consistency and integrity of the database. Ensures that Inclusion/Exclusion criteria are uniformly applied statewide; a standardized profile is used for every resource; resources are classified by the AIRS/211 LA County taxonomy; and the database is updated annually. Networks with resource managers across the nation to stay abreast of best practices and developments in technology that could enable increased efficiencies. Regularly solicits input from call center resource specialist on resource needs and recommended system changes in accordance with identified needs.

    Identify best practices for database development and maintenance:
    In tandem with Operations Director and call centers, develop best practice policy/procedures for database improvements, maintenance, and technological upgrades. Support statewide efforts to increase agency resources, continued maintenance, and system updates. Support call centers with identifying resources and best practices to maintain and enhance their local resources. 10% Reporting: Creates customized resource reports. Collects and disseminates data on community resources as needed to support 211 Maryland’s public policy/statewide impact. 10% Relationship Building and Community Outreach: Identifies statewide collaboration opportunities. Oversee efforts to create data sharing agreements and processes with local and statewide organizations. Coordinates database activities among 211 pilots. Networks with community service providers to promote availability of online resource database and to coordinate efforts to update resource information.

    Training:
    Identify best practice training opportunities. Coordinates database maintenance activities and trainings for call centers resource staff. Provides direction and guidance to resource specialists, information, and referral specialists, in researching, developing, and updating resources. Provides training as needed for call center staff on use of information and referral software for resource development and maintenance using the AIRS/211 LA County Taxonomy of Human Services.

Administrator must consistently demonstrate competency in:

  • Maintaining a statewide resource database in accordance with AIRS standards.
  • Supervise, guide, and instruct staff and volunteers with database development tasks.
  • Plan daily work schedule and prioritize tasks to meet 211 MD’s goals and objectives.
  • Perform tasks with minimal direct supervision.
  • Build and manage external relationships.
  • Leading or participate in team projects as required.
  • Employ problem solving techniques when appropriate.

Qualifications and Requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in Social Work, Human Services, Library Sciences, or related field with at least 2 years of experience in a human service organization. Knowledge of computer systems, database technology and data analysis techniques. Basic knowledge of human service delivery system. iCarol Resource Database administration experience preferred.

Abilities/Skills:

    Ability to express ideas clearly to individuals and groups.
  • Agility to make independent decisions using good judgement.
  • Organizational skills.
  • Attention to detail.
  • Strong relationship building and other interpersonal skills.

How to Apply:

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7 helpline interactions you’ll have on Christmas (or any major holiday)

If you want to witness one of the most challenging yet also most rewarding aspects of helpline work, look to the major holidays. Centers that operate 24/7/365 experience the challenge of staying open all the time and being there for help seekers even on major religious and civic holidays. It can be tough to staff these days, and hard for staff and volunteers to spend a special holiday away from friends and family, but ultimately knowing that you helped someone in their time of need makes the hard work and sacrifice worthwhile.

So what kinds of calls (or chats or texts!) do such services receive on these major holidays?

Hello from a familiar voice

    At any given hotline it’s fairly common to have a population of people both in and outside their communities for whom the helpline is a part of this person’s support network. These folks rely on the helpline as a support system for a number of reasons; limited social and familial relationships, daily coping with mental illness or disabilities, loneliness, or someone simply had a very successful interaction that keeps them coming back for support. Regardless of the reason, helplines should take this caller loyalty as a compliment and endorsement. And you’ll likely hear from these same people on the holidays as well, either to check-in and talk like they normally would, or often with an added “Thank you for being there.”

Surprise!

    More than a handful of times I can recall answering the phone on a major holiday and the person on the other end was baffled by the sound of another human voice. “Oh…hello? Are you a real person?” or “Oh wow, you guys are there today!” Often they were prepared to have to leave a message or were just testing the line. It was nice to hear someone pleasantly surprised that they could speak to another person on a day where so much was going on and so many other services are closed, and it usually made me feel like I was in the right place that day.

I need a meal/toy for my child/counselor/shelter/etc.

    These calls can be a challenge because for many situations, the help seeker isn’t going to be able to get help that day. As mentioned above, many services are closed and it can be tough to give a person referrals but know that their situation may remain in limbo until the holiday has passed. Thankfully in my experience there were at least a handful of non-profits or religious institutions who were open and providing things like hot meals on many holidays, and even those who had last-minute toy giveaways for families with children who hadn’t signed up for such programs in advance. And, even when the referred service isn’t open, you’re able to at least provide empathy and hope which can make a world of difference.

Crises don’t take a day off

    For many people, holidays are more stressful than they are delightful, and actually present a recipe for crisis. Tensions that were simmering below the surface can easily rise up when a person is under stress. And while for most people family gatherings are a happy occasion, for others these get-togethers can easily result in outbursts or even violence. Of course this can happen in a group setting or to someone who is alone. After all, a holiday is just another day, presenting all the same hardships as the day before. There is nothing special about a holiday that can create a foolproof barrier against a crisis or suicidal thoughts — making it all the more critical that someone be available to help talk things through or intervene in some way.

I want to help

    Holidays that put a focus on gratitude and generosity will bring out the best in people. For many, the spirit of giving is coursing through them so much that they’re looking for a last minute opportunity to volunteer somewhere so they can give back to others in need. Unfortunately for these generous people, most organizations have long since filled their need for volunteers on the actual holiday, plus there are application processes and/or training that make it infeasible to accept these spur of the moment offers of volunteerism. Luckily these folks are usually willing to accept referrals to the many organizations in their area that need volunteers year ’round, not just on the holidays, and would hopefully follow through with their plan to help after going through the proper processes.

Holidays are a painful reminder

    For many people the holiday itself can be a cause of negative feelings, and they need someone to vent to. Perhaps they have a particularly bad memory associated with the day or time of year, and pain surfaces as a result. This may be a memory from long ago or something that happened much more recently, but anniversaries tend to make us recall these past events and relive the emotions experienced, good or bad. Some people are grieving a lost loved one, and holidays remind them of the empty seat at the table. For others, seeing people enjoying get-togethers with family and friends shines a painful spotlight on their own loneliness or broken relationships. Being the person that was there for them when they needed it most can be very rewarding.

Thank you

    Perhaps the most heartwarming interaction you can have is with the person who calls just to say “Thanks.” Sometimes they’re people who have used your service in the past. Or, it may just be a person who finds out you’re there on a major holiday and recognizes that by sacrificing some of your time, you’re making a positive impact on others. A simple “Thank you” goes such a long way.

During the holidays we know many of you out there will be spending some time apart from your families both due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while working to serve your communities. On behalf of all of us here at iCarol, thank you for all you do and we wish you a happy holiday season and bright New Year!

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iCarol End-of-Year Housekeeping Tasks

The end of the year is fast approaching, and it’s been unlike any year before. We know how busy you are every day of the year, especially this year, but it’s time to take a moment and think about setting yourself up for success for the year ahead with some iCarol housekeeping. Even if you already have processes in place for these tasks, getting them done might fall to the bottom of your to-do list sometimes. Now is a good time to review these housekeeping tasks to help you get the most out of your iCarol system, while you’re getting ready for a new year.

    Review Draft Contact Forms

    It’s a good idea to designate a user with appropriate permissions to review all Contact Forms still in DRAFT status and ensure they’re either submitted or deleted by the end of the year. This is important because any Contact Forms in draft mode aren’t included in Statistics or Data Exports reports, so you could be missing important reporting data if forms documenting completed calls are left in draft mode. And erroneous drafts can clutter up your draft list, making it harder for your staff to see the drafts that actually need to be reviewed and completed. To learn more about draft Contact Records, open our Help Center and read this related help article.

    Set Obsolete Contact Record Custom Fields To “Inactive” Status

    The information you need to collect on your Contact Forms may periodically change. For example, perhaps a project your helpline participates in ends, and you no longer need to collect that piece of data. Or, as we’ve seen a lot this year, you need to collect new data in response to a new contract, or community response to an event or disaster. It helps to keep your forms tidy, and reduces time spent by your volunteers, if any unnecessary fields are hidden from the form entirely. This cleanup can be done at any time, but the end of the year is a perfect time to review the relevancy of your form’s fields. To learn more, open our Help Center and read this related help article.

    Disable inactive call report form filter

    Disable Inactive Custom Fields in Contact Forms from Appearing in Statistics Call Content Filters

    If you’ve made changes to your Contact Forms, and set any custom fields to ‘inactive’ because they were no longer being used, now is a good time to review those inactive custom fields, and determine if the setting to ‘Use as a filter in Statistics’ should be disabled, too. If you no longer need to run reports on this information, it may help to have that filter removed from the list entirely. This way, your reporting staff will only see applicable filters when applying them to reports, saving them time as they browse through the list of filters. To learn more, open our Help Center and read this related help article.

    Call Report Editor Use as filter in statistics

    Disable Vols-Staff from Accessing iCarol

    It’s likely you had users leave your organization throughout the past year for any number of reasons. Even if you have a process in place already for what to do when users leave your organization, now is a good time to review your Vols-Staff profiles to ensure you’ve disabled users from accessing iCarol, when appropriate. This not only keeps them from accessing data they are no longer authorized to have, but also ensures they won’t be called or emailed by your active volunteers for help covering a shift. To learn more, open the iCarol Help Center and read this related help article.

    Disable volunteer access

    Backup Resources

    It’s best practice to periodically create a backup file of your Resources, in case you need to access them offline for any reason. These files can then be especially helpful if your organization experiences problems with power loss or periodic disconnect of you internet connection, but you are still able to handle interactions (i.e. take phone calls, or handle walk-in requests) and provide referrals. You can create this backup file using our standard Resources Data Export tool, or even better, use the Specialized Exports of Resources to Word/Excel feature if your organization is subscribed to it, which provides even more flexibility in how these exports are presented and organized. Use the links above to read the related help articles to learn more about each tool to create a backup of your Resources.

    Extract data

    Backup Contact Records

    It’s also a good idea to create an offline version of your Contact Records for your users to access in case your organization ever experiences problems with power loss or loss of internet connection. Depending on the complexity of your forms, you may wish to simply save a printable version of your Contact Forms for your users to print out and use to document interactions during the power loss, or for more complex Contact Forms you may wish to transpose your Contact Forms into an editable document so your users can fill out the form on the computer in instances of internet outage. Some of our users even create paper copies for use in the event of a full power outage. Then, once internet connection is re-established, you should have a process in place to enter the data into iCarol so the interactions are included in statistical reporting.

It’s likely your organization already has processes in place to complete most of these tasks throughout the year. But if you don’t, now might be a good time to consider if you want to develop any processes for the new year to help you stay on track with completing these tasks on a regular basis so you’re optimizing your iCarol system.

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