COVID-19 Update for Peer Support HelpLine

HelpLine changes and plan to re-open phone lines

Posted on September 21, 2020

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As we enter another school year, it’s hard to believe that it’s been 6 months since we closed our offices and moved to remote service delivery. Since March 18th, our HelpLine has been providing support to 2SLGBTQ+ youth through chat/text with volunteers and staff working remotely. This was a crisis response, created with patchwork solutions, to ensure our critical service remained open; we knew that we needed long-term solutions to meet the growing demand for our HelpLine and continuing service delivery in a remote model. 

 

As a by and for 2SLGBTQ-youth HelpLine, our priority has always been to balance the needs of our service users (who are experiencing higher rates of isolation than ever) with the needs of our volunteers (who are also youth dealing with extremely difficult times).

 

Given this, today we are excited to publicly share some updates to our HelpLine.

A new mobile-friendly chat/text platform 

Launched in the summer, our new Chat/Text platform is mobile-friendly while maintaining anonymity and providing a much better user experience. This project has been in the works for over a year and thanks to a dedicated group of technology professionals, we have been able to build this custom solution to better meet 2SLGBTQ+ youth needs. The platform also strengthens our analytics, allowing us to be more responsive to changing youth needs. 

 

Check out our full press release with images here. If you have ever used our service in the past or more recently, we would love feedback on our new look here! 

 

Becoming a provincial team of 2SLGBTQ+ youth volunteers and staff 

For the first time since we opened in 1994, our HelpLine will be moving towards becoming a truly provincial HelpLine team – accepting volunteers and staff from anywhere in OntarioOur emergency response to COVID-19 allowed us to test a service with remote HelpLine volunteers/staff. Learning from our remote structures over the summer, our Helpline team is ready and excited to make this shift. 

 

A provincial remote team will allow us to increase our volunteer pooland allow 2SLGBTQ+ youth across Ontario to join the HelpLine. As peer supporters, our volunteers also draw on lived experience to connect with service users, and we know youth with connections to rural, remote, and Northern Ontario will deeply enrich our ability to better support youth in those regions. 

 

Waiting to re-open our phone lines 

Moving a youth-led HelpLine to operate virtually is no easy feat, and we have been hard at work the past 6 months. As mentioned, volunteer support is of utmost priority to us. Ensuring volunteers have the tools, resources, and support makes it possible for them to provide excellent peer support and referrals to other 2SLGBTQ+ youth. Given this, we have decided to take another 6 months before we provide support by phone. We recognize the impact this has on our callers and it was a hard decision to make; we strongly believe that the additional 6 months will ensure that youth are appropriately supported as service users, and as volunteers 

 

If you would like to see a more detailed outline of our Phone Implementation Plan, and some of the context that has led to this decision, you can find it here. 

 

Next Steps 

Over the next 6 months, we plan to: 

  • Implement a new VoIP (Voice over IP) system to replace our landline phones and to meet our unique needs as an anonymous peer support HelpLine; 
  • Run a revamped virtual Tier1 Training for 2SLGBTQ+ youth across Ontario to become chat/text supporters; 
  • Develop and run a new Tier2 Training focused on volunteers providing remote phone support; this training will ensure our volunteers are confident and equipped to support different issues, with limited staff support;  
  • Implement a Virtual Service Room, with a robust resource and referral system, supporting volunteers to provide consistent, informed peer support on a range of issues; and
  • Develop a comprehensive virtual volunteer engagement plan, to maintain and enhance our volunteer supports in this new virtual environment.

We are so thankful for all our volunteers, staff, supporters, and community partners that have supported us through these challenging times. Moving a HelpLine from a physical location to an entirely remote operation is no easy feat – we thank everyone for their patience and understanding as we continue to work through changes and challenges as they come up. 

 

Special thanks to all our staff and volunteer alumni who returned to the lines over the summer, after just one email request – we could not have met the increased demand during this pandemic without your support! 

 

We know how important our service is and are working hard to ensure our HelpLine can fully re-open as soon as possible, and we’ll continue to provide confidential and anonymous peer support to 2SLGBTQ+ youth across Ontario by chat/text as we work towards this.  

 

We’ll continue to make updates on our plan – follow us online, on our website news feed, or sign up for our e-Newsletter to keep up-to-date. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please reach out to Minna Frederick, Peer Support Manager, at MinnaF@youthline.ca or Berkha Gupta, Executive Director, at BerkhaG@youthline.ca 

 

Reminder: Our service is not a Crisis Line so if you are looking for Emergency/Crisis Lines, please visit our Resource Database and select ‘Crisis/Distress’ and ‘Phone/Chat/Text’.