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January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

CW: This blog post discusses human trafficking, abuse, violence, and exploitation.

The United States recognizes January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. While this is designation originated in the US in 2010 by presidential proclamation, many other countries, including Canada, take part in education and awareness around human trafficking and slavery during January as well.

What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking occurs when someone, using force, fraud, or coercion, obtains some form of labor or commercial sex act from the victim, often for the direct profit of the perpetrators. Traffickers use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure their victims into trafficking situations. Human Trafficking is often described a modern-day slavery. Traffickers may recruit, transport, harbor and/or exercise control, direction or influence over the movements of a person in order to exploit that person, typically through sexual exploitation or forced labor.

Who are the victims?

Anyone, of any age, race, religion, sex, or background can become a victim of human trafficking, however certain groups of people are more commonly victimized and enslaved, or vulnerable to trafficking, than others. Women and children are more likely to be victimized than men. Human trafficking particularly affects women and children who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color), immigrants or migrants.

How big is the problem?

Human Trafficking and Slavery are more prevalent than most people probably think. According to the US State Department, by some estimates, as many as 24.9 million people — adults and children — are trapped in a form of human trafficking around the world, including in the United States. Instability caused by natural disasters, conflict, or a pandemic can increase opportunities for traffickers to exploit others. During the COVID-19 pandemic, traffickers are continuing to harm people, finding ways to innovate and even capitalize on the chaos.

How can you tell if someone might be a victim?

There are many signs to watch for. A few of the most common are:

  • Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
  • Has a child stopped attending school?
  • Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
  • Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
  • Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
  • Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?
  • Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

Read more about common signs. You can even download an indicator card to carry with you to remind you of what to watch look for.

How you can help

Anyone can join in the fight against human trafficking. If you suspect someone is being victimized, you should not confront them while they are in the presence of the suspected perpetrator, nor should you confront a suspected perpetrator. This could be dangerous for you and the victim. Instead, experts advise you reach out to emergency services or law enforcement to report suspected trafficking.

There are many things you can do to help fight human trafficking beyond reporting suspected trafficking when you see it. You can get involved in your community’s efforts to end trafficking, donate to organizations that fight human trafficking, and much more. Click here for a comprehensive list of ideas for how you can help.

Resources:

Hope for Justice
US Department of State
Administration for Children & Families – Office on Trafficking in Persons
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)
The Human Trafficking Institute
Public Safety Canada
Royal Canadian Mounted Police

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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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Happy New Year from iCarol

It’s hard to believe that soon we’ll be closing out yet another year. The passage of time has felt especially fast lately. The year prior, everything was exceptionally strange and most agree 2020 far overstayed its welcome. By comparison, the months each felt only a few days long throughout 2021.

For our customers, 2021 was another year where you were asked to do more for your communities than ever before, stretching your resources as much as possible to meet emergent and rapidly evolving needs. Many of our customer organizations continued to play a critical roll in COVID-19 response, for example contracting with local health authorities to take calls for COVID-19 hotlines and in many cases assisting with vaccine rollout efforts. As a result, you have improved the health of your communities and helped save lives. We couldn’t be more proud or honored to be associated with the amazing work you do.

The global pandemic advanced the need for communities to solve problems by coordinating efforts between agencies to reduce duplication of work and ease participation for consumers of services, all while collecting and sharing important data to prove impact that drives creation of new services and the funding to make it happen. As a result, we’ve received more requests than ever before from customers who need to participate in health information exchanges, securely pass intake information to a partner, and close the loop on outcomes and results of the services received. We’re delighted that our customers are making use of iCarol’s flexibility to help you leverage your data and say “yes” to these projects, and it has motivated us to continue to stay ahead of the innovation happening in these areas. Meeting your needs with technology, and giving you options in how you can engage with others to help your communities, will always be something that drives us here at iCarol.

Looking ahead, we know that the impacts of COVID will be with us for a long time to come, and so we’re prepared to continue brainstorming solutions with you as needs evolve. We expect the mental health and economic impacts to reverberate for years to come, which means your core services providing listening and empathy, connection to helpful services, and crisis intervention will be more important than ever. It’s appropriate timing that the U.S. will launch three digit dialing for suicide prevention and mental/behavioral health crises in the form of 9-8-8, coming in July of 2022. We’ve spoken to many organizations who will be participating 988 centers asking us how iCarol can assist. We’re committed to helping this new network meet its goals of creating better, more comprehensive mental and behavioral health systems and look forward to those continuing conversations, your ideas, and finally seeing 9-8-8 become a reality in July.

In envisioning new and better ways for the systems of care to work, we understand that your work is growing less transactional and more about seeing someone through a situation long term, building a relationship and being a part of their network of support. To that end, you may recall we asked you some questions a few months back about your case management needs and how well they are being served by us. We’re excited to say that thanks to your feedback, we’ve discovered several areas where we can improve and add tools to iCarol that will help you do this work better. To learn a bit more about this, I hope you’ll join our upcoming annual “State of iCarol” webinar in January where we’ll share some of what we have in mind for these sorts of developments in 2022. Stay tuned to the blog, and watch your iCarol Dashboard and email inbox for an invite. If you don’t already get our emails, I hope you’ll sign up here so we can stay in touch with you.

I hope that each of you, and your entire teams, can take time to be with the people and do the things that are most meaningful and rejuvenating for you. We see you, your dedication to your work of helping others and improving the world around you, and the clear positive impact you have. We look forward to another year serving you and wish you a happy holiday season and a bright New Year.

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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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Stigma is Scary – People Living With Mental Illness Are Not

pumpkins stacked on top of a bale of hay

One of the things I like most about Halloween is that it offers such a wide range of ways to participate and have fun. Horror movies not your thing? You can stick to fun activities like carving a jack-o-lantern and handing out candy to trick or treaters (in normal, non-pandemic years at least). And then there are the endless costume possibilities. You can be anything from a superhero to your favorite movie character to some very obscure cultural reference or the more traditional choice of ghost or vampire.

So with that range of costume possibilities and ways to have fun in mind, it’s always deeply upsetting to see Halloween become an event where mental illness is misrepresented and stigmatized. Some haunted house attractions are centered around “asylum” themes, or have a “haunted psych ward” component. Actors wearing straight jackets or wielding weapons chase visitors and shout lines about hearing voices. The message is very clear: Mental illness, and people who experience mental illness, are scary, violent, and to be feared.

In recent years, several costumes have been pulled from the shelves following pressure from mental health advocates. Unfortunately every year there are still a few new inappropriate and offensive costumes that pop up and make their way to stores and online retailers, and regrettably they are eventually seen out in public at bars and parties. And each time one is sold and then worn, it perpetuates the stigma and misconceptions around mental illness.

These interjections of mental illness into Halloween are neither fun nor harmless, but keep in place harmful stereotypes. These attractions and costumes continue pushing the idea that a person living with mental illness is violent and should be avoided. Discrimination is still a problem for people living with mental illness, and every day those who experience symptoms choose not to seek help for fear of mistreatment by the public, or that their relationships with family and friends will suffer. These depictions also hurt those who have experienced mental illness, especially those who have been hospitalized. Their deepest fears about what society thinks of them are realized when they see illness become a subject of fear-based entertainment.

It would never be acceptable to have haunted houses set in a hospice or cancer wing of a hospital, nor would we find cancer patient costumes to be appropriate. It’s important that we all speak up when we see mental illness being stigmatized, and stand up for those who have experience with illness and are negatively impacted by the perpetuation of stigma.

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October 3-9 is Mental Illness Awareness Week

Each year during the first full week of October, mental health organizations draw attention to mental health conditions through Mental Illness Awareness Week.

Mental illnesses are medical conditions that effect millions of people, however they are still misunderstood and stigmatized, and those living with these conditions still face prejudice that those with other medical conditions don’t experience.

The aim of Mental Illness Awareness Week is to provide public education highlighting the fact that these illnesses are medical conditions and should be treated as such.

For more information on Mental Illness Awareness Week, and to participate with promoting the efforts around public information on mental illness, visit these resources:

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Mental Health America releases 2021 Back to School Toolkit

high school students wearing masks

Returning to school and beginning a new academic year can cause feelings of anxiety and uncertainty in any circumstances, but the impact of COVID-19 makes the event extra stressful on students, parents, and educators alike.

Each year, Mental Health America releases a back to school toolkit aimed at helping people start the new school year right with healthy habits and an awareness of stress and mental health. MHA focuses on the need to prioritize mental health and emotional well-being so that all students can thrive both in and out of the school setting.

The 2021 Toolkit is titled Facing Fears, Supporting Students and contains hands-on materials such as:

  • Fact sheets for parents and teachers
  • Fact sheets for children and teens
  • Key messages and statistics
  • Sample articles and social media posts
  • Worksheets
  • and more!

The 2021 Mental Health America Back to School Toolkit is available now on the Mental Health America website.

Download the Toolkit

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iCarol virtually exhibiting at National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) Conference

n4a conference

iCarol is very proud and excited to be an exhibitor at the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) virtual conference and tradeshow July 19-22.

This will be iCarol’s third year in attendance at n4a, and second year exhibiting virtually. We are excited to once again celebrate the work of Area Agencies on Aging and Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs) and continue to be amazed at how these organizations have responded and provided continuity of services amidst the Coronavirus pandemic. Older adults and those with health conditions are particularly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19, but maintaining social connections and other services under social distance has been critical to these individuals. These organizations have stepped up in amazing ways to provide consistency and reassurance.

At our virtual n4a booth we’ll have information to share about how iCarol empowers ADRCs, AAAs, and Senior Information Lines, and other services for older adults, individuals with disabilities, and their caregivers to:

  • Provide social connection and ease loneliness through Telephone Reassurance Programs
  • Collaborate with Community-Based Organizations to address Social Determinants of Health
  • Participate in Health/Community Information Exchanges and No Wrong Door initiatives
  • Provide comprehensive I&R, Closed-Loop referral and collect outcome data
  • Document information included on reimbursement requests
  • Meet people on preferred communication channels
  • Integrate with other software and systems

If you’re attending the conference, be sure to visit the iCarol virtual booth to learn more, download the resources we have available, and contact us with your questions!

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SAMHSA Awards 988 Dialing Code Administration Grant to Vibrant Emotional Health

On Wednesday, June 16, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced that Vibrant Emotional Health will be the administrators of the new 988 dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the United States. Vibrant, in partnership with SAMHSA, has administered the Lifeline since its creation in 2005. Click here to read SAMHSA’s full statement.

The process of creating the three-digit national number to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has been ongoing for several years. Click here For more information on 988.

The team at iCarol extends our congratulations to Vibrant Emotional Health for being designated as administrators of the 988 dialing code. Through our years working with Vibrant Emotional Health and the many Lifeline Network Centers answering calls to 1-800-273-TALK, we have seen firsthand the passion and professionalism these teams bring to their work addressing the critical public health issues of suicide and mental health. We believe that 988 will improve accessibility and equity for Americans seeking emotional support and assistance. By designating a three-digit number for suicide prevention and mental health crises, our leaders send a clear message that these concerns deserve the same immediate attention and access to assistance as a physical health emergency, while also reducing harmful stigmas that create barriers to treatment. As the leading software provider among the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network of centers, we stand ready to support our customers making the transition to answering 988, and welcome new centers coming on board for the 988 initiative.

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June Support Training: Telephony Integration

Did you know that iCarol can work with many telephony systems to “pop” iCarol Contact Forms onto your volunteer/staff screens when a call rings through to their workstation? These Contact Forms can even be configured to pre-populate fields based on data from the telephony system, such as whether the call may be coming from a recognized caller with a profile, or if the caller pressed certain options into your telephony’s interactive voice response (IVR) or “Phone tree” menu while they waited to get through to a specialist.

If you want to learn more, we hope you’ll join our June Support Training where we’ll share more about iCarol Telephony Integration. We will cover:

  • A live demo of iCarol Telephony Integration in action!
  • What is iCarol Telephony Integration?
  • What additional software is needed to subscribe to iCarol Telephony Integration?
  • What are some use cases for iCarol Telephony Integration?

While we typically hold our Monthly Support Trainings on the third Wednesdays each month, iCarol’s Monthly Support Training in June will take place on the last   Wednesday of the month, June 30th at 2pm Eastern.

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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