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Chat in the municipality of Copenhagen – looking back on 2016

Previously, we have blogged about the success of the municipality of Copenhagen’s digital youth counselling in collaboration with Cyberhus.dk. Then, they were quite satisfied with their results during their trial period. They were off to a good start and had established contact with some of the young people who do not show up in Copenhagen’s physical counselling. In this article, we take stock of another exciting year of chat counselling speaking to youth counsellor John Szumlanski about results, experiences, and the difference chat counselling is making in young people’s lives.

By Sonya Spender, communicator, CfDP

2016 in numbers

These statistics are based upon 170 conversations. Counting 70,6 of all inquiries, girls are still the group of users who dominate the chat room. Age wise, 15-17-year-old’s use the chat counselling the most, constituting 35,9% of the overall statistics. Conversational topics range widely: Most inquiries concern sexuality and sex (18,8 %), but sexual assault is also a prominent topic (16,1%). Next, we find love, including falling in love and heartaches (16,1 %), and familiy/parents (12,5 %). In addition to sexual abuse, there has been quite a few conversations about incest (8 %), self-harm (7,1 %), and thoughts of suicide (5,4 %).

Chat counselling works well in close collaboration with other services

During 2016, the chat counselling of the municipality of Copenhagen has referred 30,2 % of their users to parents or another adult, 20,9 % to teachers, 16,3 % to doctors, and 14 % to other family members. Counsellors also make frequent use of other online services when making referrals; for example, they referred 23,1 % of their users to the Danish Children’s Helpline (Children’s Rights), 23,1 % to voluntary initiatives on Cyberhus.dk, and 15,4% to the Sex Helpline. Also, Plexus, Ventilen (The Valve), and the local “24-hour-service” are used occasionally.

Johnny Szumlanski explains that typically, they refer young to other places in the municipality of Copenhagen:

”We’re able to be much more specific than those who need to cater to young people nationwide. We’ve got much more knowledge about what is happening locally, including e.g. small projects or groups, or other new initiatives, that have not yet been widely renowned.”

The municipality of Copenhagen has been working closely with Copenhagen’s social 24-hour-service which provides an added advantage. The 24-hour-service is a service available in all municipalities that handles social acute cases concerning children and young people. The social 24-hour-service in Copenhagen has already assisted Copenhagen’s chat counselling with help and advice concerning several of their severe acute cases.

“It’s really exciting to work with players of a completely different muscle strength relative to the aid we are normally able to provide. For instance, we’re able to say to someone: Join me at the 24-hour-service, or come by taxi, we’ll pay for it. Or should I come pick you up? For example, if the issue at hand is rather severe,” Johnny Szumlanski explains.

An increase of issues concerning violence, alcohol, rape, and assault

2016 has not been a year of any significant increase of the overall number of inquiries to Copenhagen’s chat counselling, perhaps because of a lack of PR for the counselling. Most young people have entered through Cyberhus.dk. However, there has been an increase of the number of severe issues such as violence, drinking, rape, incest, and assaults which may indicate that users have become more confident in the local chat counselling of the municipality of Copenhagen. Johnny Szumlanski elaborates:

”They (inquiries, ed.) usually don’t reach us. Sometimes, but not as much as we’ve experienced during this one year. Usually, other adults are made aware who alert their surroundings.”

The increased number of conversations dealing with severe issues has to do with the fact that the chat room ensures anonymity. There are not necessarily more cases of sexual abuse, however, chat counselling may be made aware of more cases. As such, chat counselling contributes to the awareness of more cases of sexual abuse, and thus, provides the opportunity to stop such cases quicker.

Anonymity saves time and streamlines counselling

At Cyberhus, it is our general impression that users would like to be as anonymous as possible. The vast majority do not wish to inform about their residence, whether they are already in contact with a professional, or whether they have previously used the chat room. This is something Johnny Szumlanski recognises from the chat counselling of Copenhagen’s municipality. Szumlanski explains that users often ask whether this is completely anonymous, and whether or not the chat counsellors really cannot see them:

”Anonymity plays an important role. Young people are quicker to open up, and issues are often ‘resolved’ within 5-10 minutes.”

According to Johnny, 2-3 meetings in their physical counselling have often been necessary before a young person has had the courage to “open up.”

“Chatting can save time because a lot of users go straight to the point, which results in less resources or man hours spent on any individual,” Szumlanski elaborates. “You reach the crux of the matter quicker, and also, young people are making inquiries far sooner. Many of our users have not shared their issues with other adults. Therefore, we are often their first contact,” Johnny Szumlanski explains.

See more reflections from the counselling of Copenhagen’s municipality following this link.

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