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Collaborative Messaging: Build Networks, Connect with other Helplines

Collaborating w partnersOne key feature of iCarol is the ability to link and share service delivery with other helplines in a variety of ways. Historically a common partnership scenario involves call centers who pass some or all of their calls to other iCarol-using centers either as after-hours contracts, or on an as-needed basis for overflow. iCarol accommodates these partnerships with call report sharing capabilities. Much the same with resources, centers can share resource databases with others who may be taking their calls, or to better service the needs of help-seekers with a wider range of potential services to refer them to, or through setting up provincial and state-wide resource databases to be accessed by a network of helplines who can all take part in maintaining these resources, thus reducing burden to each individual center.

These same principles of sharing volume to benefit centers and clients alike also extends to iCarol Messaging, and in recent month’s we’ve made improvements in this arena.

As an example, one nationwide network using iCarol was using a sort of round-robin approach in how to route chats to the centers who were members of that network. Visitors would arrive to the website and click through to chat, and from there they’d be routed to one of the centers based on the schedule, and the coverage area of the center. Once they were properly routed, they’d arrive at that center’s registration page and after completing registration they’d appear in just that center’s messaging queue.

There are some challenges to this approach, namely:

  • The routing system didn’t take counselor availability into account so chats may be routed but the destination center may be overwhelmed with other work and short on counselors to take chats
  • The visitor was visible just in the iCarol system to which they were routed
  • Registration pages may have a different look and feel, depending on the center to which the visitor was sent
  • Lack of control over the data being collected by individual centers
  • Statistics could not be run in real-time; they had to be aggregated first

chat networks sharingOur developers have been working on a new approach for this network, and they’re currently using it to much success during the pilot period. So, how does the approach work now? The network is using a single shared “portal” made available to the participating centers in their iCarol systems, rather than routing the chats as it did before. This means:

  • Standardized registration pages make for a more consistent look and feel, and better branding for the network
  • Pre-written messages, reporting forms, and data collection are standardized
  • The network system directly hosts and controls their own data, so they get better reporting capabilities
  • Chats are visible to any center serving the visitor’s area, meaning better load balancing and shorter wait times for visitors, fewer abandoned chats
  • Chats are clearly marked as being from the network, but appear in the same queue as the center’s other local chats for ease of use

We’re excited to say that this pilot period has gone very well and the network is enjoying the benefits of the shared portal technology.

We’d welcome the opportunity to talk to you about your network whether it’s provincial/statewide, or national, to see how this functionality could improve and streamline your messaging services and benefit all your participating centers and visitors alike. Current iCarol users, please open a case with us, or if you’re not using iCarol yet please contact us to learn more!

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Using iCarol’s Built-in Suicide Risk Assessment Tools

When your volunteers are working with a help-seeker either on the phone, in-person, or online, there may come a time where assessing that person’s risk for suicide becomes necessary. Several years ago the Lifeline developed suicide risk assessment standards based on industry research. We then took these standards into consideration and developed a tool for use in iCarol that guides your volunteers and staff through that assessment process. Like other forms in iCarol, this guide can be customized to your needs.

The assessment begins with three basic and direct questions that gauge whether the person is thinking of suicide today, if they’ve thought about suicide very recently, and whether they have ever attempted to kill themselves.

three questions

Instructions guide the worker to proceed if any of the questions receive a ‘Yes’ answer. A fourth question asking about suicide in progress can help determine imminent risk, and our ‘Help tip’ reveals important questions to help quickly clarify this risk and begin rescue if that is part of your helpline’s policies.

Suicide In Progress Help

Four areas influencing risk are explored: Desire, Capability, Intent, and Buffers and Connectedness. Each section contains a number of topics, each with a ‘Help tip’ providing suggestions on the types of questions or statements that could be worked into the conversation. This can help your staff build rapport with the client and allows the interaction to continue naturally, rather than feeling like a questionnaire.

Exploring risk

As they talk with the client, they can select any of three options for each area which best captures where the client is for that particular topic. As these options are selected, our tool weights these answers and provides a measurement that helps gauge the overall level of risk.

Weighted risk gauge

Next, your worker can discuss and record the client’s reasons for living and reasons for dying. This can be a compelling tool for discussion and an important piece of the conversation. When someone is at risk for suicide, finding and focusing on reasons for living as compared to their reasons for dying can be a powerful exercise.

Reasons for living and dying

Finally, your worker can record the level of risk as determined through their discussion with the client or from the measurement tool. A series of instructions can help guide them towards resolution, referral, and other outcomes.

Again, because our forms are customizable to your own practices, this guide can be used exactly as delivered or you can make your own adjustments and edits if needed.

Providing a safe place for open, honest discussion about suicide, free of judgment, is the cornerstone of any crisis service. This powerful risk assessment tool will help your volunteers and staff feel supported, equipped, and confident when working with callers at risk for suicide, all while helping your center conform with industry standards.

Want to know more about our Suicide Risk Assessment tools, or want to enable them in your system? Please , or existing users can open a support case.

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We never talk anymore: The preference to text instead of talk

An interesting take on the preference for texting over talking can be found in this article by Bizzuka.

Some key points to take away:

  • Smartphone owners aged 18-24 send and receive 4,000 messages per month.

  • 43% of 18-24 year-olds say that texting is just as meaningful as an actual conversation with someone over the phone.

  • 42% of teens say the primary reason they have a cell phone is for texting. Safety was second at 35%.

These and other statistics about millennials are sourced here.

Millennials aren’t the only ones who text, though. According to Factbrowser, statistics reveal that US smartphone owners who use text (92%) send an average of 111 messages per week, and 49% of those who use social media daily would rather text than call someone.

More evidence that texting is not a fad but rather an often preferred mode of communication that’s here to stay.

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Key Differences and Similarities between Instant Messaging and Texting with iCarol

Are you thinking about letting visitors contact you via messaging, but are not sure of the differences between Instant Messaging and Text Messaging? iCarol offers both – here’s a quick review of how each differs in access, convenience, variable cost, and privacy.

Access

Laptop in useInstant Messaging lets visitors click on an iCarol-provided “chat now” button on your website to initiate a session with one of your specialists. Both the visitor and the specialist converse from computer screens, typing messages back and forth to each other.

With Text Messaging, counselors also converse from iCarol computer screens – actually the very same screens they’d use for Instant Messaging – yet visitors participate from their own cell phones, not from a computer screen.

Convenience

We all know that the easier it is to get information or help, the more likely it is a person will ask.

Many of our Instant Messaging clients love having a “Chat Now” button on their website. Not only does it encourage visitors to return repeatedly to their website – who doesn’t want a popular website? – it also offers visitors a handy way of communicating when and where a visitor really needs it.

For example, you could paste the button right next to the screen where visitors search your resource database (another iCarol feature). If the visitor is having trouble finding what they need, help is just a click away.

So Instant Messaging is great for organizations that either have a popular website, or don’t, and appreciate a boost in web traffic while at the same time better serving your community.

Smart Phone  with two thumbs

Text Messaging, on the other hand, offers a convenient way to ask for help when a visitor is not near a computer. Often clients tell us that visitors who text them would not reach out to anyone if a texting service were not available.

For example, maybe a man’s on the bus on the way to work and he’s stressed about paying his utility bill. Or a mom sitting at a park rocking her sleeping toddler needs help finding an after-school program for her first grader. Perhaps a middle-school student plops down on the family couch next to her siblings after a tough day at school fending off bullies. All of these people might reach out for help via texing.

Text Messaging makes help available right from the convenience of a person’s own cell phone. It’s a kind of access that people tend to expect more and more in a world where texting friends, family, companies, banks, etc. is ubiquitous.

Variable Cost

Where the two forms of messaging differ from a variable cost standpoint is in text usage fees. Text Messaging has them, Instant Messaging does not. When you have Text Messaging service, you’ll be billed for usage based on how many thousands of texts you use per month.

In your iCarol system, you’ll always have a running count of texts so you can see your usage level. We won’t cut you off when you reach your billed-for limit; we’ll just make it up on the next bill. As you use more texts, volume discounts kick in. Plus an increased volume helps funders see how popular your service has become.

Your visitors will of course never be charged by iCarol for text usage, but may be charged by their own cell phone provider, depending on their texting plan. There’s a spot in the workflow to add a note to visitors reminding them, and typically our clients like to add such a note as well to wherever they publicize the texting number.

Privacy

Both Text Messaging and Instant Messaging offer a kind of privacy that a voice phone call does not. That is, nobody can overhear a conversation asking for help conducted via either kind of messaging, because it’s all nonverbal.

That’s helpful for a large segment of the population who might not otherwise reach out for help.

It’s an important factor, of course, for those with hearing or speaking issues, and for those who would rather not speak out loud.

Consider the person experiencing domestic violence, or a troubled student who has a hard time getting out of earshot of siblings or dorm-mates. Clients who work with transgender individuals say their visitors are thankful they don’t have to explain why their voice may not match their gender identity. And some people just are naturally more comfortable typing their innermost concerns than voicing them aloud. The privacy that non-verbal communication affords is a hallmark of both Instant Messaging and Text Messaging.

Text Messaging and Instant Messaging differ in other aspects of privacy, though.

Keyboard and screen in useWith Instant Messaging, all the communication is handled within iCarol –the ChatNow button connects directly to your iCarol system. Because it’s a closed system, iCarol can control the traffic entirely, and encrypts messages from the time they leave the keyboard of both the visitor and the specialist. Data saved in your iCarol system is encrypted, too – with the same strict encryption used by financial services institutions.

Data saved in the system for Text Messaging is also encrypted, but unlike with Instant Messaging, text messages aren’t controlled end-to-end by iCarol. Instead, while the messages are in transit over the phone lines, it’s the phone carriers that control the security of that traffic. That is true for any vendor’s text messaging offering. These days, phone carriers of course handle traffic for financial transactions, medical information, plane reservations, billing, etc. so you can determine your own comfort level.

Text Messaging and Instant Messaging can be used Concurrently

Because of the distinct features of each type of messaging, many of iCarol’s clients actually use both.

Call Report Editing copy

That’s easy to do because the specialist workflow is exactly the same — if you learn one type of messaging, you already know the other. Also, both forms of messaging are integrated nicely into your iCarol system – so much so that specialists can, and do, handle both Text Messaging and Instant Messaging sessions concurrently.

If you’d like to learn more about messaging, please join us for a webinar on Messaging, or contact us for more information.

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“It’s a Wonderful Life” As Viewed by the Crisis Worker

Whether you pop in the DVD or catch one of the many showings on television this season, the Frank Capra classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” tops many must-watch lists for holiday viewing. But for those of you who work in crisis and suicide prevention we suspect you view this film through a unique lens…

You know you’re a Crisis Worker watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” if…

  • You comment on how the movie perpetuates the myth that suicide rates go up at Christmastime

  • You’re jealous that Clarence got to see a factual recap of George’s life before talking to him and think about how much that would help you respond to callers

  • You know George’s circumstances aren’t nearly as bad as many of the people you’ve talked to, and yet you still empathize with him and don’t judge him for feeling suicidal

  • You can list all the warning signs that George is giving, and yell at the other characters for not picking up on them

  • Even better, you wish someone would talk to George about his behavior and ask him directly if he was thinking of suicide

  • You praise Mary for calling a family member to talk about how George was behaving, and not keeping his behavior a secret

  • It reminds you of all the people you’ve spoken to that thought their suicide would be what’s best for their family

  • You note that George chose a very high lethality method

  • You wish Clarence would spend more time letting George tell him how he’s feeling and what has him thinking about suicide, instead of shutting him down and telling George he shouldn’t say such things

  • You’re relieved when George finds his reasons for living

  • You’re thankful for the happy ending, but you know that it’s rarely wrapped up so easily

  • You’re reminded of why you do the work you do

Have you had any of these thoughts while watching this classic film? Got any other thoughts to add? We’d love to hear from you, leave us a comment!

And while you may not have wings, we know the countless individuals touched by your caring voices consider you all guardian angels. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to saving lives, during the holidays and all year round.

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Call Report Editing control at your fingertips

By now we hope you’ve heard the news that iCarol recently released an expanded, robust set of tools that give you more control than ever over your Call Report forms, used to document the critical data captured during client interactions.

BlogHave you tried the new form editor yet? This tool lets Administrators have almost the same level of control as the iCarol support team. In fact, your tools and the tools our Support team use are extremely similar.

You can now bypass our Support team for most tasks, including things like adding new Categories and questions, and in the time it would have taken to submit a request to make a change, you can now make that change yourself and see the results on your forms instantly. This may be particularly helpful for when you need to respond quickly to rapidly developing events like disasters, or if changes need to occur outside of normal business hours, like weekends or holidays.

We’ve held two webinars so far to walk through this new tool. Thanks to all those who’ve participated – if you haven’t joined one yet, please stop on by. The last one on this topic is scheduled for December 2nd, 2pm EST and you can register via the link below.

Register now!

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iCarol presents at Child Helpline International’s Global Conference

In October, we were delighted to have had the opportunity to present at Child Helpline International’s 7th International Consultation. This assembly of child helplines around the world had sessions covering interesting topics including Digital Fundraising, how communication technologies are used in the prevention and protection from child trafficking, apps for Child Helplines, and much more. This year’s consultation made technology their focus; exploring how technology enables and encourages young people to reach out.

Technology also empowers helplines, and that was the focus of our presentation. Neil McKechnie, our CEO and Co-founder, presented information about how child helpline centres around the world are using iCarol to capture data in highly customizable formats. We showed how our tools help take the guess work out of managing a helpline, and how this valuable information can drive decisions about staffing, equip managers to quickly respond to the needs of their community, study linkages in demographics and issues, adequately train line staff, and so much more.

These are just some of the ways in which our clients are using the data collected in iCarol:

  • When the crisis line’s phone number is advertised on a TV show or elsewhere in the media, they can immediately see the “spike” in calls by pulling real-time call volume charts
  • Interpret seasonal increases in calls from youth during the summer to indicate that this population may need more support when school is out of session
  • Use issues tracking to know what topics staff may need extra training on
  • Decipher patterns in call volume and chat traffic that help inform staffing decisions
  • Visualize co-occurring issues, such as Depression and Suicide
  • Track relationships between issues and age groups, and issues and gender
  • Using the iCarol API, build applications that let kids easily find services in their area
  • Fulfill grant reporting requests by adding new data collection points to their call report forms at any time

These are just some of the ways in which our clients are taking the data collected in their call reporting forms, and turning it into meaningful, actionable information. We’re grateful to have been included in Child Helpline International’s conference this year and hope our audience found our presentation interesting. If you’d like to learn more about iCarol’s statistical capabilities, take a look at our website and please if you have questions or want to learn more.

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Come see our team at CUSA/NASCOD Conference this week

This week our business development team will convene in Nashville to participate in the CUSA/NASCOD conference. This event is going to be a particularly special one for us because so many members of our team will be together at once, someone’s even travelling internationally to be there; Britt will be coming all the way from Germany to meet our North American clients!

After Friday’s sessions, we invite you to join us and CONTACT of Mercer County, NJ for a special session at 5pm. We will highlight the TxtToday pilot project; a national Texting Helpline. This pilot is a partnership between CONTACT of Mercer County New Jersey and CONTACT Crisis Line in Jackson, with iCarol as the software platform that accommodates the data aggregation and load balancing of the texts among the centers. We’re excited to talk about iCarol’s role in this partnership and to listen to the centers’ experiences in the pilot.

If you’ve ever considered the benefits of having your center join a national network, then this session is definitely for you. The pilot participants wish to expand this network by adding on more participating centers, so we invite you to come and find out how you might become a part of this exciting venture to reach help seekers all over the nation via this extremely popular and growing channel of text communication. And if you’re still not convinced whether you should join us, we’ll have some treats to share with our audience. Everyone enjoys something to snack on after a busy day of learning and networking! 😛

So if you’ll be one of the many people in Music City later this week, please stop by our booth and say hi! If you use iCarol at your helpline then we’d certainly love to get to meet you face to face! If you’re not a current user, we’d be grateful for the opportunity to tell you about iCarol Helpline Software and how it’s used by helplines all over the world, many of whom will be represented at this conference. Hope to see you there!

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iCarol’s new Automated Verification Response Screen

Recently, the responses screen in the automated verification tool has been updated and expanded to add more tools to make it even easier for you to manage your verifications. Please read on to learn more about the tools now available on this screen.

The screen is laid out in a table format, with several columns of information. You can reorder any of the columns (alphabetically or by date, depending on the data in the column) by clicking the up or down arrow beside the name of each column. In the upper right hand corner of the screen, there is a search box, so you can search for particular data by resource name, resource type, date, email address or a person’s name.

1

You will note there is a column titled “Assigned To”. When an individual sends a verification request, that request and the subsequent responses are assigned to that person. In this way, you can divide the responsibility for automated verification requests and responses between several people. Using the check boxes next to the Resource Name and the “Reassign” button at the bottom of the screen, you can reassign the responses to another worker if you wish. Please also note there is a Delete button at the bottom of the screen. You can use the check boxes next to the Resource Name and this button to Delete particular responses if you wish.

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Also at the bottom of the screen, there are some settings you can use to filter the data in the table. To access these settings, click the link “Show settings”. “Show Verification Responses for” allows you to filter the list to show only those verification responses assigned to you, or those assigned to everyone. “Show Verification Responses in” is used to filter the responses according to what status they are in. The definitions of the statuses are:

Pending A verification request has been sent, but the verifier has not responded yet.

Responded The verifier has submitted (responded to) the verification request sent to them, but the response has not yet been approved by someone at your agency.

Completed The verification response has been approved by someone at your agency.

“Include the following fields in the Results” will only appear if you are using custom resource fields. These custom fields will appear in a list so that you can filter the responses list to only include those resource records with the chosen custom field.

3

Finally, in the top left corner, you can determine how many entries you would like to see per page. The default is 10, but you can change this to 25, 50 or 100. If there are multiple pages of results, you can move through each page by clicking “previous”, “next” or a page number in the lower right hand corner.

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What is “Restriction and Certification” in iCarol?

Restriction and Certification can be used to restrict access to confidential information stored in iCarol based on where the user logs in. If Restriction is enabled, confidential information stored in call repots and caller profiles can only be accessed from computers or networks that have been certified.

*Very Important Note* Restriction and Certification can only be used on PCs. Unfortunately, this functionality cannot be used on Apple products.

To use Restriction and Certification, the first step is to access the Tools tab of Admin Tools and place a check mark in the box next to “Use Restriction”, in the Restriction and Certification section, then click “Save all settings” at the top of the screen.

Admin Tools Setting

By default, Admins and Supervisors are not affected by Restriction, meaning, no matter where they log in, they can access the confidential information in iCarol. If you would like to restrict Admins and Supervisors as well, you can place check marks next to the appropriate settings on this page.

Next, you will need to download the iCarol Certification tool, and certify the computers from which users can access confidential information. To do so, click “click here” at the bottom of the Restriction and Certification section, and follow the steps noted. Once the tool is downloaded and installed on the computer you wish to certify, open the certification tool and enter your login and password, plus a name for the computer you are certifying. Please note, if you certify one computer on a network, all computers on that network will be treated as certified and can be used to access confidential information.

Certification tool

There are two settings in Advanced Security settings related to restriction and certification. These settings are found in the left hand column of the Call Reports section.

Advanced Security Settings

The first setting is “Can certify computers”. By default, Admins and Supervisors can certify computers using the certification tool. If you would like individuals at other security levels to be able to do this, you can check this setting.

The second setting is “Exempt from Restriction (can always see call reports)”. This setting is used if you are using Restriction in your agency, but want a particular person to be able to access confidential information wherever they log in.

If you have any questions about how to use Restriction and Certification, please do not hesitate to contact the iCarol Support team.

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