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Posts Tagged ‘child and adolescent mental health’

Research Study: Improving Volunteer Retention at Child Helplines By Increasing Satisfaction on Interactions

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.

Motivation:

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 j.siegel@uva.nl

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World Health Organization focuses on Youth this World Mental Health Day

October 10 is World Mental Health Day, and it’s a day every single person can and should participate in. Every person should be aware of the state of their own mental health, be able to recognize the signs that they are stressed or ill, and know what to do when that happens. And while this is important regardless of one’s age, this year the World Health Organization is placing a focus on child and adolescent mental health.

Half of all mental health conditions start by age 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated until many years later or often not at all. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15-29. Depression and eating disorders are top concerns for youth, as is alcohol and drug use that can lead to unsafe behavior. Even under the best circumstances, adolescence and young adulthood are challenging times. Not only do youth experience physical, hormonal, and emotional changes that can be uncomfortable and confusing, but youth are also dealing with academic and societal expectations and challenges. Young adults are facing major life changes such as choosing how to begin their futures, starting university or their first jobs and beginning to navigate adulthood when they may very much still feel like a child. While all this is exciting, it’s also stressful. And, if these pressures aren’t managed well with healthy coping strategies, mental health conditions can and do develop. Besides all the expected challenges of adolescence, we mustn’t forget the number of youth worldwide living in areas affected by war, natural disaster, health epidemics, conflict, and humanitarian emergencies. Young people living in situations such as these are particularly vulnerable to mental distress and illness.

Thankfully, there is a growing focus on prevention and building resilience that could make a difference in the lifelong mental health of youth everywhere. The first step is greater awareness and understanding of mental health as a part of overall health and wellbeing, and knowing the first symptoms of mental illness. The removal of stigma associated with mental illness, and access to proper care are also a vital part of building a more mentally healthy world. And of course, parents, teachers, guidance counselors, and other adults who interact with youth have a role to play in helping children build life skills that help them cope with challenges in healthy and constructive ways so that serious mental health conditions are less likely to become an issue.

WHO encourages governments worldwide to invest in the social, health and education sectors and support comprehensive, integrated, evidence-based programs for the mental health of young people. In particular, programs that raise awareness among adolescents and young adults of ways to look after their mental health and programs that help peers, parents and teachers know how to support their friends, children and students.

Resources, fact sheets, shareable graphics and more can be found on the World Health Organization’s website.

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