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.”
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Crisis Call Centers are no strangers to stressful, high-impact work environments—but what happens when the world as we know it is turned upside down by a global pandemic? Join us as iCarol hosts Travis Atkinson of TBD Solutions to discuss the results of two national surveys administered to behavioral health crisis workers that shed light on the state of crisis services and what communities need to be prepared for to assure people experiencing a psychiatric emergency can access high-quality care.
When: Tuesday, December 8
Time: 2pm EST
After joining the webinar, attendees will:
- Understand the function of a healthy crisis continuum and the impact of system capacity issues on overall coordination
- Learn the most pressing issues facing crisis service providers of all types during the pandemic
- Identify strategies for creatively combating system challenges to achieve the desired goals of timely and accessible crisis services.
Travis Atkinson, MA-LPC
For the past 10 years, Travis has worked in both clinical and managerial roles in behavioral health. Through these experiences, he espouses the value of a healthy and functioning behavioral health care system, the power of data to drive decision‐making, and the importance of asking the right questions. While maintaining a broad vision for excellence and leadership, Travis has sought out best practices for behavioral health care services through research and connecting with fellow providers at a local and national level. He is an excellent training instructor, coach, meeting facilitator, conference presenter, and host of The Crisis Podcast.
iCarol is very proud and excited to be an exhibitor at the first ever virtual Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) E-Conference being held September 16-18.
The AIRS Conference is one of our favorite events of the year, so we’re very excited to take part in their virtual event beginning today. While things are a bit different this year, we are thrilled to see how resilient and adaptive the I&R community has been in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Amidst handling a record number of requests for their services the organizations and professionals in this space have found ways to innovate and reach even more people, often while working remotely.
For agencies serving older adults and those with disabilities, another industry highly active at this conference, they serve a population that is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, who still require social connections and other services while maintaining social distance. Aging organizations have stepped up in amazing ways to provide consistency and reassurance.
Of course, it’s really no surprise to us that these industries have been so responsive to unprecedented challenges – 2-1-1s and I&R professionals are famous for their ability to find creative solutions to almost any challenge!
At our booth this week we have lots of information to share about our *NEW* iCarol features that empower 2-1-1s and other I&R services to:
- Rapidly respond during disasters and other emergencies
- Document data needed to submit reimbursement requests
- Meet people on preferred communication channels
- Collaborate with Community-Based Organizations to address Social Determinants of Health
- Participate in CIE and No Wrong Door initiatives
- Integrate with other software and systems
- Provide Closed-Loop referral and collect outcome data
In the weeks, months, and even years ahead, communities will continue to face hardships around finances, housing, employment, food insecurity, and access to healthcare as a result of this pandemic. We hope during these busy few days of virtually learning at AIRS attendees will find time to stop by our 2-1-1 services booth or Older Adult and Disability services booth and learn about all the latest solutions iCarol has to offer to help 2-1-1s, Aging and Disability services, and other Information and Referral centers meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
Guest Blogger Josh Siegel is a PhD Candidate at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on service provider well-being. After earning a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona, he moved to Amsterdam, where he obtained a Master’s degree.
Guest blogger views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of CharityLogic/iCarol, or iCarol’s parent company, Harris Computer Systems.
Child helplines offer support and information to children for a wide variety of issues such as abuse and violence, bullying, sexuality, family, homelessness, health and discrimination. As such, child helplines fulfill the United Nations mandate that all children be heard. In 2017, child helplines in 146 countries received over 24 million contacts from children in need of care and protection, and these numbers are rising rapidly. To help meet this growing demand, helplines have introduced online chat as another method of communication.
To perform well in this challenging and evolving context, helplines invest a substantial part of their budget into training volunteers extensively on how to provide social support to each child in the form of instrumental (e.g. advice) and emotional (e.g. empathy) support. Like many other non-governmental organizations, child helplines face the challenges of limited resources and volunteer turnover.
Volunteers at child helplines play an important role in providing support for children, so keeping them satisfied during encounters is crucial to continue helping children. The purpose of our study was to understand how children’s perceptions of instrumental and emotional support influence volunteer encounter satisfaction, and whether this effect is moderated by a volunteer’s previous encounter experience and levels of interpersonal and service-offering adaptiveness.
From discussions with child helplines, I learned that volunteer turnover is a common concern. The goal of the research was learning how to retain volunteers by keeping them satisfied in their roles. The academic literature about helplines and counseling has found sources of volunteer satisfaction like personal development, and social support from colleagues. However, I was surprised to find that little academic research has explored how volunteers may derive satisfaction from their interactions with children. Since volunteers spend a majority of their shifts talking with children, it seemed like a good place to investigate.
Summary of findings:
When a volunteer feels dissatisfied after a chat with a child, how does this experience affect the volunteer’s next chat?
What was really interesting in this study, is that we were able to collect data from both the child and the volunteer after each chat that they had. This allowed us to understand how a child’s perceptions of the chat influenced the volunteer’s experience. Let me explain what we found.
When volunteers had a chat that they experienced as less satisfying, they felt more satisfied with the next chat, especially when they were able to provide the next child with information and referrals. In our study, we call this providing “instrumental support” and we asked the children the extent to which they felt they received this type of support from the helpline volunteer (children’s perceptions).
The other type of social support we looked into was emotional support. This is like active listening and just trying to help children feel better without directly trying to solve their problems. Unlike instrumental support, providing emotional support in the next chat did not improve volunteer satisfaction after a less satisfying chat.
We think that volunteers might provide instrumental support to feel better. When you’re feeling down, you can feel better by assisting someone because it feels good to help.
We also asked volunteers to rate their own “interpersonal adaptiveness.” It indicates how easy it is for volunteers to adjust how they communicate with each child. For instance, they might change their vocabulary to match a child’s or adjust their personality based on what they think the child needs. We found that those volunteers who feel they are good in interpersonal adaptiveness, were more satisfied when providing instrumental support. Another thing that volunteers do is adapt the support they provide to each child. For some volunteers, it is easier to customize the information or referrals to specifically fit each child’s situation. This is referred to as “service-offering adaptiveness” in our paper. We thought that this would mean some volunteers are better able to detect cues from children. And in doing so, their satisfaction would be more dependent on the cues they picked up from each child. However, we found the opposite. Our results showed that satisfaction for volunteers with higher “service-offering adaptiveness” was actually less affected by providing instrumental support.
Based on our findings, what can helplines do to help volunteers remain satisfied during their encounters with children?
Finding: Volunteers are more satisfied when children believe they received lots of instrumental support.
Suggested Action: Volunteers should have easy access to the helpline’s resources in order to provide the best information, advice, and referrals to children.
Finding: It is important to be aware that a volunteer’s experience with one encounter influences the next encounter.
Suggested Action: There should be sufficient support for volunteers after a less satisfying encounter. We recommend a feedback tool that would help volunteers to “cool off” after one of these chats or even allow a colleague or manager to help volunteers with the next chat.
Finding: Since volunteer satisfaction increases when children are happy with the support provided, it is important that volunteers are able to detect children’s perceptions.
Suggested Action: To help volunteers understand children’s perceptions throughout a chat, we propose that a monitoring system would be helpful. Such a system could highlight keywords in the chat that would signal whether the volunteer should provide more instrumental support and/or emotional support.
Further reading and sourcing: Siegel, J. and van Dolen, W. (2020), “Child helplines: exploring determinants and boundary conditions of volunteer encounter satisfaction”, Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/JSM-05-2019-0200
Call for collaboration:
The project I am currently working on investigates how helpline counselors manage multiple live chats / SMS conversations simultaneously and how doing so can affect their wellbeing. My goal is to identify ways for enhancing counselor wellbeing by determining how and when it is best to handle more than one interaction simultaneously in order to prevent either feeling overloaded or bored.
I am looking for a helpline with a focus on serving youth and children that would be willing to help me collect data from volunteers and counselors about their experiences with each interaction. I would also like to talk with helpline managers and counselors about their experiences, concerns, and ideas to find out how else we can collaborate. In addition to an academic article as output of this research, I would write a management report for the helpline which discusses the findings and recommendations for helpline managers.
If you are interested in collaborating, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Returning to school and beginning a new academic year can cause feelings of anxiety and uncertainty in any circumstances, but this year it is extra stressful on students, parents, and educators alike due to COVID-19.
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. This year the kit contains materials aimed specifically at coping with the unusual circumstances of beginning school in the midst of a pandemic, with many schools opting for virtual or distance learning, at least for the first semester.
The 2020 Mental Health America Back to School Toolkit is available now on the Mental Health America website.
The Coronavirus global pandemic has introduced all sorts of new challenges to not-for-profit organizations — maintaining services while social distancing and obeying stay-at-home orders, keeping staff and clients safe, shifting to remote work, engaging clients online — to name a few. And while seamless service delivery is of the utmost importance, those services often can’t exist without donors, stakeholders and funders, and we’ve still yet to see the long-term impacts the economic downturns and depression may have on non-profit funding.
A recent blog shared to Candid Learning, an online source for information about philanthropy and fundraising, shares some information and steps toward better engaging and accessing funding sources during the pandemic, and tips on realigning services with the missions and priorities of those funders. Read more on the Candid Learning blog, authored by Elizabeth (Liz) Ngonzi.
Check out these related resources:
How to Get Funding
for New Technology
Why Advocacy and
How the Heck Do You Do It?
Building a United Crisis Line Team
in Times of Diverse Need
How to Calculate
Social Return on Investment
This is the second in a series of blogs about practicing self-care in times of high stress, such as what we’re experiencing now with COVID-19. You can read Part 1 here.
Many people—especially those in helping professions—find it hard to practice self-care even if they understand its importance. There are a number of reasons for this. It is difficult to pause and make time for self-care practices when consumed by tasks at home, work, with family, etc. Helpers might feel guilty about taking time for self-care for fear that they are somehow letting down their families, coworkers or clients by pausing, even momentarily, to care for themselves. With these obstacles in play, it’s important to take some actions to make self-care a bit easier to achieve.
Tips to Help Make Self-care Possible
Start short, and work your way up
Sometimes we associate self-care with activities taking a long bubble bath or treating yourself to a professional massage. While either of those can be great for self-care, these two examples involve a level of time and cost commitment that is unrealistic for many people. Instead, we should think of self-care as something that someone only needs to take a few minutes to achieve at first. While it’s ideal to take more than just a few minutes at a time for self-care, associating self-care only with more indulgent, time-consuming activities can easily set a person to give up on the idea without even trying, because it seems too unrealistic to achieve.
Develop strategies for work and home
You’re going to need self-care options for several different environments and circumstances, so it’s a good idea to keep a few ideas in your toolbox that will work for the setting. Taking a half hour to break and read a book or watch a television program might work at home, but in the office self-care may look more like finding a quiet space for a few minutes of deep breathing and recharging. Try to keep an open mind and find multiple activities that work for you so that you can practice self-care as you find time in a variety of environments.
Pursue activities that are therapeutic for you
When deciding how to care for yourself, think about what you enjoy and what kinds of activities give you a deepest sense of peace, relaxation, or accomplishment of self-care. It can be easy to get caught up in what self-care “should” look like through society’s perspective, but effective self-care is very individualized.
Make it a team effort
It’s a phrase we’ve heard a lot lately— “We are all in this together.” But, the saying is particularly true especially for those who are working directly on COVID-19 response. Caring for others is one of those things you’re good at, and you can use that power to take care of your colleagues, and let them take care of you as well. The power and protection of your team is more meaningful now than ever, so rely on one another to help make self-care a priority. For example, help remind one another to take breaks as needed at work, and be there to process difficult calls with one another. If everyone buys in to self-care as an important part of the workplace, you can all help one another be accountable for everyone practicing good self-care.
In the third and final part of this blog series, we’ll share some ideas for self-care activities and why each might be effective for reducing stress.
Businesses of all types have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 crisis, including not-for-profit organizations. Both the Canadian and US Federal Governments have made assistance programs available to small businesses, particularly regarding maintaining of payroll in spite of lost income. The following resources may be helpful to your non-profit organization if you need to explore such programs for your agency:
April is Stress Awareness Month. Right now we’re all very aware of just how stressful life is, and for those providing any kind of services and response to COVID-19, it is an especially stressful time. When the calls are nonstop, the task list is endless, and the hours are long, that’s precisely when we tend to abandon our self-care so we can focus more attention on work—And that’s the exact wrong thing to do.
It is normal to approach self-care with skepticism. Not so much questioning its importance, but how realistic it is to achieve. The reality is none of us have the free time staring us in the face where we can easily focus on ourselves, the point is you have to make the time and commit to it.
Why is Self-care Important?
Be a more effective caregiver
As the flight attendant says, “In the event of an emergency, when the oxygen masks deploy, be sure to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” Why? Because if you pass out from lack of oxygen, not only do you suffer but those who needed your assistance can’t receive help either. You cannot be an effective caregiver to others if you yourself are suffering from excessive stress or burnout. And the way to avoid getting to the breaking point is to practice self-care along the way, and often, so that stress levels aren’t able to get to the point of breaking you and preventing you from truly being present for each client interaction you are tasked to handle.
Prevent physical and mental health problems
It’s not just about the health and well-being of the people you serve—your own health is put at risk when stress compounds and you neglect a self-care routine. According to numerous health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Canadian Public Health Association, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, American Heart Association, National Institute of Mental Health, and others, chronic stress can lead to several—sometimes serious—health conditions including:
- Digestive problems
- Problems sleeping/insomnia
- Weight gain
- Disruption to memory and concentration
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease and stroke
The American Psychological Association outlines the numerous, and very scientific, reasons that stress impacts your body from your brain to your muscles and everything in between. If you struggle with investing time in a self-care routine, think of it this way: If any of the conditions listed above develop as a result of chronic stress, you’ll end up spending much more of your time, resources, finances—and, ultimately undergo even more stress. Think of the old quote by Benjamin Franklin coined way back in 1736: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Maintain healthy relationships
When things are particularly hectic at work, coming home can be a welcome reprieve. But, left unmanaged, stress can create unrest in your household. Stress is contagious, and so your overall mood or tense demeanor could cause your partner, children, and others in your home, to experience similar symptoms. Stress can cause us to have a “shorter fuse” and lose patience more quickly, leading to bickering or blow ups. And, in this case, one of the scientific benefits of stress—increased vigilance—can make you hyper aware of the faults, annoying habits, and negative behaviors of those around you, again potentially creating more arguments and bickering. Effectively managing stress through self-care can help keep the peace.
How do I practice self-care?
In Part 2 of this blog series, we’ll look at the different ways one can practice self-care to relieve the symptoms and effects of stress.
Why Self Care Can Help You Manage Stress
The Mind and Mental Health: How Stress Affects the Brain
Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior
The Effects of Stress on Your Body
Lower Stress: How does stress affect the body?
Mental Health – Coping With Stress
Stress effects on the body
5 Things You Should Know About Stress
How Stress Affects Mental Health
Is Stress Killing Your Relationship? Why You’re Not Alone
What are the effects of stress on a relationship?