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Posts Tagged ‘instant messaging’

Going beyond “Calls” – We need your input

helpline call chat text

More than a decade ago when iCarol was first created by two helpline volunteers, Neil and Jackie McKechnie, helpline work was very much based in serving people via the phone. And the phone remains a method of communication to this day for helplines all over the world.

Over the years though, as new technologies grew in popularity and availability, people increasingly turn to channels like chatting, texting, or connecting with services through websites. And helplines need to embrace these new channels to stay relevant and reach more people. The flexibility in iCarol enables helplines to capture important information regardless of the type of contact — our Call Report Forms are used to collect data on interactions, whether they happen over the phone, online, via text, or even at in-person visits from mobile crisis teams or walk-in clinics. But some of the verbiage inside iCarol still centers around calls as a primary service, like the main Calls page, Call reports, and Caller Profiles.

We know that many helplines have expanded services beyond the phone, and that iCarol plays an important role in your documentation of all channels. For that reason, we are considering a name change for the “Calls” section of iCarol to better describe what you do and how you use these features. Please take 2 minutes to give your input about this by taking a brief survey.

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ONTX releases six months in review data

These past six months, the Ontario Online and Text Crisis Services program has been in a soft launch phase, and on Monday in their monthly newsletter they released some initial data for that period.

Some key findings:

  • Total chats and texts through January 31: 4,700
  • 73% of visitors are under 25 years old
  • Interpersonal and mental health issues were the most common topics of discussion
  • Visitors are reporting a decrease in distress following their chat
  • 55% of visitors said they wouldn’t contact someone else if they couldn’t reach ONTX

For a full look at the released findings click here, and for future updates be sure to sign up for Distress and Crisis Ontario’s newsletter by emailing your request to .

We thank them for sharing these findings — we are often asked by others looking to add online emotional support to their service what they can expect. Data like this is very helpful as other prepare to make the critical shift of bringing their services online.

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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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15 iCarol Messaging Tools That Improve Your Crisis Intervention Service

When it’s time to pick a Live Chat or Texting platform for your helpline, you’ve got a lot to consider. Your crisis intervention service needs tools that will help you meet grant requirements, comply with accreditations and certifications, and report on the data collected during client interactions. But most important of all, you need to be a source of online emotional support for your visitors and provide excellent service to them.

You provide a vital service to your community, and a generic, out-of-the-box solution just won’t cut it. Here are 15 functions of iCarol Messaging that will actually help improve your suicide prevention or crisis intervention service.

ShiftsTotal control of availability – With iCarol messaging you have complete control over when your text or chat service is online and available, using the integrated Shift Scheduling tool right within iCarol. If using Live Chat, visitors to your website will only see you as Online if you have an active shift set up with workers assigned. Similar with texting, if a shift is not set up or no one is assigned to that shift, a visitor who texts in will get a friendly message letting them know your service is currently offline, and it can advise them of when you’re next available.

Bonus – Experiencing a surge of phone calls due to a local event, crisis, or other emergent situation, and need your workers to turn their attention to those calls? Or perhaps your queue of online help-seekers is full and your specialists need time to catch up before inviting more visitors in. You can take your service offline temporarily with the click of a button so your workers can address those messages. You can quickly turn your messaging services back on when you’re ready to open up the queue again.

Collect info up front – Registration and Pre-chat surveys let you collect the necessary data at the start of the chat, and straight from the visitor themselves. You can keep it simple, like asking for basic demographic information, or ask questions like, “What’s your main concern today?” or “How upset are you?” with a list of available options. These questions are highly customizable, so you can collect whatever information you need. This data will be presented to your counselors, helping prepare them for the conversation and giving them valuable insight on how to best serve the help seeker.

Furthermore, the answers to these pre-chat survey questions can have values applied to them, unbeknownst to the visitor, that can flag a visitor as being potentially high risk, based on how they answer certain questions or as a calculation of the entirety of their answers. This risk level will be displayed as the visitor enters your queue, helping your volunteers and staff do necessary triage, assign higher risk chats to more experienced counselors, or provide with quality assurance.

Bonus – Need to limit your interactions to visitors in a certain geographic area? We’ve got you covered. If you ask visitors their zip code or postal code during Registration and a Pre-chat survey, iCarol will automatically screen for geographic area, allowing only those in your defined area to participate. Visitors from outside the area will get a friendly list of alternate sources of help.

Vols-StaffSupport for Volunteers and Staff – Your Chat Specialists could face some challenging chats. iCarol offers tools that ensure your workers can rely on peers and supervisors for support when needed. Right from within the conversation window a counselor can ask for help from their direct supervisor. Workers can also send an email or text message to any colleague or supervisor, without ever leaving iCarol. Finally, our Internal Chat tool is a way for people signed in to iCarol to type quick messages to one another. Chat Specialists could ask a colleague for advice on appropriate referrals or tips on how to help a visitor. As a Helpline Director you and other supervisors could be available for consultation while you’re in the call center, or you could sign in from your home computer to check in with workers on shifts occurring after you’ve already left the office for the day.

Resource and Referral – It’s common during conversations, whether they’re over the phone or through live chat or text, that a help seeker may need services beyond what your helpline offers. Food pantries, shelter, financial assistance, or professional counseling are just a few examples. Every iCarol system includes a resource database that you can populate with all the information about your own local community resources. You can search this database of services while chatting with a visitor and deliver those referrals right within their messaging window, so they can get any further help they may need. Of course, the system retains the statistics about these referrals for reporting later on.

SearchSilent Monitoring – Supervisors can also navigate to the chat queue and review the active messages going on between their counselors and the visitors. Further, they can look in on those individual conversations to provide help or quality assurance.

Assess Risk – With access to suicide risk assessment tools (developed by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) your specialists have tools to help guide them through any necessary suicide risk assessment. This includes suggestions for talking points or questions to pose to the visitor or work into the conversation, with possible answers for your chat specialist to mark. As those areas are answered, a measurement is provided that helps guide the counselor as to the level of risk. Nothing replaces the experience and gut instinct of your trained specialists, but this tool provides a quantitative measurement to help guide them.

Exclamation Mark copyTools for rescue – One of the biggest points of apprehension that we hear about concerning Online Emotional Support concerns the ability to send emergency personnel to help-seekers in imminent danger. The anonymity that has so many flocking to this mode of support brings with it some challenges when it comes to imminent danger situations. Statistically speaking, rescue is probably a rare occurrence at most centers when you think about just how many calls about suicide your center answers. We all know that what your callers tend to need most when they’re considering suicide is empathetic, non-judgmental listening. Most people just need to express their feelings to someone who won’t become uncomfortable or shut down the conversation. Having a safe place to talk about their feelings is hugely helpful.

But there are those instances where someone may be in danger and in need of intervention. If you’ve determined a visitor is in need of emergency assistance, best practices suggest that it’s best to engage the help-seeker and try to get them to participate in their own rescue by providing that critical location information. But if they will not, iCarol will make available to your worker the Internet Service Provider (ISP) and IP Address which can be turned over to law enforcement. This information can typically be used by the authorities who will work with that ISP to determine where the user of that IP Address is physically located. With clients who are texting you, at your option you can access their full phone number for use in an emergency.

As your center plans to add Online Emotional Support to your services, it’s a good idea to contact local law enforcement and start to explore how they might help your center if these situations arise. And if your center does not have a need for this information or if having access to an ISP or IP Address or full phone number of a visitor stands in contention with your policies about confidentiality and privacy, we’ll be happy to remove these tools from your messaging system.

Data ManagementData Input – Once an interaction ends, counselors fill out a call report form to capture important data. Many things on this form are already filled out automatically: Start and end time of interaction, any information entered by the visitor before and after the interaction, the full, time-stamped transcript, and the referrals you’ve made. There’s ample opportunity for further data collection as well, such as issues discussed, risk assessment information, and more. In short, the call report form contains all information you have about the interaction in one convenient place. All of this can be reported on in the Statistics area of iCarol and/or via Call Report Exports to be analyzed in an external program like Microsoft Access or Excel.

Visitor Feedback – Remember the pre-chat survey? You can add on a post-chat counterpart, and use it to collect your visitor’s feedback and feelings about the service you provided, self-assessment following the chat, or anything else you’d like them to share with you.

Feedback and Quality Assurance – One aspect of your chat reporting form will be the chat transcript. That’s right, whether the interaction was via text message or live chat, the full time-stamped transcript of that interaction will become a part of your report form. This comes in extra handy when it comes time for supervisors to review interactions and give feedback. You can give very specific guidance to your workers using these transcripts, pointing out specific moments in the conversation where they really connected with what the visitor was saying, or perhaps where an opportunity was missed. Further, these transcripts can make for excellent training tools for new volunteers who are learning how to provide Online Emotional Support.

helpline flowFollow-up – There are many reasons you may be re-engaging with a client once the initial interaction has ended. Safety planning and ongoing contact with support systems are extremely important for people who are having thoughts of suicide. You may also want to see if the referrals a caller was given were able to help them, or use a follow-up call or text as an opportunity to conduct a satisfaction or quality assurance survey. If a person reaches your service via Text message, they may want to receive their “call back” this way as well. With our Follow-up activity you can follow-up via phone call or text message. Our handy character counter will even help you keep that message under the limit so that your content can be sent in one single text message.

Pie chart pointing to dollar signReports for your CEO or funders – We offer a robust set of statistical tools offering many charts and graphs at your disposal, along with more advanced exporting if you’d like to import your data into external programs for further analysis. Reports on the number of interactions your center is handling, pie charts showing the location, demographic, or issues/needs data, are just a few examples of the types of reports you could run. And practically anything you collect on the call reporting form can also be turned into a Call Content Filter. So run that chart showing the number of messaging interactions that were logged in your system last month, and using the filters you can determine how many of those came from Males between the ages of 40 and 60 who messaged you about an Addiction, if you collect that data. What you can report on is limited only in what you choose to collect on your highly customizable call reporting form.

Collaborating w partnersLoad balancing and collaboration – Say you want to provide your chat service 24 hours a day, but only have the staff to provide this service for some of that time. Or, maybe your center is part of a network of centers within a state or region that would like to come together to offer Online Emotional Support, and want to share responsibility for offering that service. There are several options where, using iCarol, you can partner, contract, and have chats routed according to the partnerships you’ve formed. If you haven’t found a partner, we can help connect you with centers who you may be able to build that relationship with.

Data SecurityWhat’s Private Stays Private – Text and Instant Message conversations often deal with sensitive subjects. Data stored in iCarol, including messaging data, is encrypted at a level used by financial institutions, so rest assured your data is secure. Our exclusive focus working with non-profit help centers, crisis centers, and information centers assures our understanding of your needs in this area. Be aware, however, that text messages travel over telephony provider networks, and that part of the interaction is out of any text service provider’s control, including iCarol.

Grow and Expand your service – Perhaps you want to set up a new text or chat service aimed specifically at teens. Using “Portals” iCarol can separate these new programs from the rest of your messaging platform. This program might have its own hours of operation, and you need to collect different data for that program than you would for your base chat/text service, all of which is possible now that you’ve separated this service out via Portals.

At iCarol we pride ourselves on being a choice solution for non-profit helplines, due in part to our vast experience and intimate knowledge of the helpline industry, and our Messaging capabilities follow those same principles. To learn more about using iCarol to provide Online Emotional Support, current iCarol users can check out the tutorial videos found in the “Help” section of your iCarol system, and open a case to ask questions or start a trial. Everyone is welcome to join us for a webinar on Messaging to learn more, too!

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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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What we took away from NOMORE.org’s ad

The famous pro-football championship game that aired last night (honestly, it’s unclear whether we’re allowed to use the trademarked name in our blog, so let’s err on the side of caution, shall we? 🙂 ) is arguably watched for its commercials just as much as it is for the game itself. As usual, this year’s game produced a number of ads that are generating lots of conversation, both good and bad. It was a great year for ads that focused on social awareness. For instance the “Make it Happy” ads by Coca Cola advocate for positivity in response to bullying on the internet and social media. The “Like a Girl” ad reminds society to stop using that phrase as an insult. And after a year of controversy surrounding the NFL’s handling of domestic violence, there were ads tackling that topic as well.

Last week the organization NOMORE.org released a very powerful ad, which was also shown during the game. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out below.

This is easily one of the most compelling, important tv spots I’ve seen in a long time. When I first watched it I felt sad, scared, and anxious as I listened to the exchange between the woman and the 9-1-1 operator. It’s one thing to understand what domestic violence is, but it’s quite another thing to hear the call for help.*

There are several messages I took away from the commercial. How isolating domestic violence is, for instance. Or how resourceful and resilient survivors of domestic violence are. But for me the most resounding message came at the end of the ad with the text on the screen: “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen.”

Finding the strength to speak up can be difficult. Finding someone who can listen, who can read between the lines if necessary in order to help — that’s even harder. And we know that helpline workers use their expert skills to do this with clients every day, not just when it comes to domestic violence, but in identifying child abuse, or thoughts of suicide. You’re able to weed through their words, to pick up on the slightest hint of what’s below the surface, and uncover the deeper issue.

But there are lots of times when a verbal conversation just isn’t possible at all. The woman portrayed in the ad was able to make an excuse to use the phone, and cleverly found a way to call for help without her abuser realizing it. There’s a reason why efforts are underway to enable texting to 9-1-1. Local law enforcement and emergency services are recognizing that in some situations, a phone call is dangerous or impossible.

More and more, help seekers reach out via chat or text instead of a phone call, too. Sometimes because of personal preference, and sometimes because silence is necessary. The instance shown in the ad is just one example; certainly chat or text has been used by those affected by domestic violence to reach out for online emotional support, or even receive emergency rescue during a violent incident. But there are other scenarios where this might be needed, and they may not all be as dire as the call in the commercial.

Think of the teen who wants to discreetly discuss his sexuality without risking a parent or sibling listening in on the conversation. Or the young woman at a party who is feeling anxious and upset, but can’t verbalize that to the friends she’s with and doesn’t want others to overhear. A child may have just been bullied in the hallway at school, and they find it much easier to hop on a library computer for a chat session than it is to make a phone call.

There are plenty of instances where someone needs to talk, but they can’t say the words outloud. It’s important that we be there to listen through the channels the help seekers want to use.

* While the call in the commercial feels very real, it is actually a re-enactment of a real call to 9-1-1

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Collaborate with partners: Load balance chats between organizations

We have an exciting new capability to share with iCarol Messaging subscribers. You can now allow a partner center, or multiple centers, to take chats for you from within their own iCarol system.

Collaborating w partnersThis new ability is transparent to visitors; they will not be aware of which center is taking the chat session. Visitors will still click on your familiar Chat Now button on your website and will see your prechat survey. But during times you designate, both you and your partner center will see those visitors come in to each of your messaging queues. As usual, safeguards are in place so two people don’t accidentally take the same chat. Both centers will have access to submitted call report forms and associated real-time statistics.

The possibilities here are endless. It’s ideal for handling overflow in a disaster situation. Watch your messaging queue grow shorter and become more manageable as your partner agency takes some of your chats. You can use this feature to handle after-hours messaging visitors. Because iCarol centers are found in multiple time zones, after-hours for you might be prime time for another center, and your partner could take all of your after-hours chats. This lets you expand your hours of service without trying to staff shifts during hard-to-staff hours. Want to get really fancy? You could even designate multiple centers to handle chats that come in to a central iCarol system, effectively creating a consortium of chat centers where no single center feels overburdened or underutilized. Every partner center sees all chats and takes chats when they can — it’s load balancing at its finest. Each partner center could have their own hours of service, too, and you’d get real-time statistics.

If you’re interested but don’t have a partner center in mind, feel free to post a message on the iCarol User Community on the Dashboard to find your perfect match. We can see it now: Single Crisis Center on East Coast seeks same on West Coast for meaningful after-hours relationship…looking for good listening skills, compassion, and ability to read between the lines. 🙂

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iCarol to present workshop on Online Emotional Support at AAS Conference

We’re gearing up for the American Association of Suicidology’s 47th Annual Conference in Los Angeles! We’re looking forward to seeing so many of our friends and colleagues there; it’s always a great chance to catch up with everyone in the helpline and suicide prevention industry.

This year iCarol is particularly excited to present a special lunch session on Friday April 11th. Our workshop is
Chat, Texting, Mobile and Social: A look at today and the future of online emotional support with iCarol.

WebinarsWith every passing year, the use of new channels to seek help continues to expand. Join this session to help your crisis center evaluate these channels, determine your next steps and plan your technology choices to adapt to the evolving Online Emotional Support (OES) landscape. You’ll hear from your peers and technology experts about the best way to get started serving people interactively using the electronically written, rather than the spoken word.Smart Phone  with two thumbs

Adding new channels by which your clients can reach you can be intimidating and may leave you with a lot of questions. We hope to answer the questions you may have about these new technologies and give you confidence to embark on this new and exciting path with the tools iCarol has developed. We hope you’ll join us for this session at AAS! Not attending the conference but still want to learn more about our Online Emotional Support capabilities? Sign up for a webinar!

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