This is not a headline that we normally make use of at CfDP – but now the time has come.
I have just returned home after holding a two weeks long workshop in Beirut, Lebanon, with the title “The Digital counselling Workshop”. A new e-helpline has come into existence in Lebanon (the first one of its kind in the Middle East), which primary task is to advise children and teens on online related problems through mail counselling. Many interested parties took part in the workshop and they are all going to collaborate on this interesting project:
Project co-ordinators from the organisation World Vision Lebanon, the Police’s Cyber Crime Unit, the ministry for social affairs and psychologists from the organisation Himaya, a total of 30 persons, will be in charge of the actual counselling.
The credit for making this workshop a realisation should considerably be given to Mandy Yamanis from World Vision, who three years ago decided to provide the children and teens of the region with the opportunity to get help and counselling concerning online issues. She is a highly far-sighted and visionary woman, who I had the pleasure of meeting at a conference in Luxembourg last year. We continued our dialogue and soon it became clear that our experience with our digital counselling platform Cyberhus could benefit the development of this e-helpline. Mandy managed to find the finances needed for travelling and lodging and CfDP decided to contribute with a free workshop.
The purpose of the workshop was as follows:
1: To give a better insight in digital communication with children and teens, primarily from a counselling perspective.
2: To create a better understanding and insight transversely to the different professional groups involved, with special reference to the preparation of concrete collaborative agreements.
Both Himaya, Cyber Crime Unit and World Vision do an amazing job for children and teens in Lebanon. World Vision for example is at present involved in projects concerning primarily health, education and life skills, which have a direct influence on 90,000 children. Now the idea was to transform all the knowledge and commitment into a digital effort. That makes up an interesting exercise because even though there are a lot of similarities and professional overlaps between social work online and offline, the digital contribution brings along specific challenges. At the workshop we covered matters such as:
Intro to Cyberhus
We started out with an extensive introduction to Cyberhus and our working methods in our counselling department. Our methods and considerations resulted in interesting discussions, in which the psychologists from Himaya in particular showed a great knowledge and curiosity.
Thoughts and considerations were aroused and now we could start focusing on their own helplines.
An objectives hierarchy
The first step was the creation of an objectives hierarchy, which seemed to be a big and important challenge for the participants. The awareness of the primary target group and the overall objective, when working digitally, is central to how we choose to design our digital counselling platform – including everything for graphics and the language to the actual counselling method.
The matter was discussed at great length and it became apparent that the different professional groups had dissimilar objectives and approaches towards the objective. We did not reach a final result; however, ideas and intentions were put into words. As the workshop progressed and the time came to define the different work processes and methods it became clear to the participants how important this common goal is.
For example when approaching the issue of identifying the child writing to us
This specific area caused the most comprehensive discussions and highlighted the differences within the group. What did the process, from the girl writing us for the first time to a possible intervention from the police/the social authorities, look like? Should the child from day one be connected to one specific counsellor? How did you decide whether the approach was serious or not? Etc.
To show my point, I compared Cyberhus with the Danish organisation Albahus (who agreed to be used as an example). Both organisations have different answers to the questions above, exactly because our overall objectives are dissimilar. At Cyberhus our overall objective is to create safe surroundings where the child can express itself, whereas at Albahus the goal is to put a stop to sexual abuse. The difference in objectives also results in differences in the way we identify the children and their needs.
I kept challenging them over and over again asking them about the primary objective of their helpline, because only in that way they will be able to draw up deliberate working methods.
Anonymous or non- anonymous
The counselling has been presented as being anonymous, which means that the children can read on the front page that the dialogue is confidential and stays between the person in question and the counsellor. Nevertheless, the police want a direct access to the IP address used and would like to start investigating the case without informing the child.
A number of ethical and pedagogical questions pour out of me and that creates discussions transversely to the professional groups. With their practice and logical sense the police saw many advantages of the working method, as it provides a direct opportunity of helping children in need, whereas the psychologists from Himaya found that there were several ethical issues connected to how the counselling is presented to the children.
Therefore, the task was to agree on some working procedures and how to handle information about the child in question, in order to rethink how to introduce it to the child.
An amazing experience
From a personal perspective the workshop in Beirut has been an amazing experience. First of all, all the lovely and proud people that I have met, eager to make a difference for children and teens in Lebanon, have made a huge impression on me. Second of all, it has been an experience to see the different conditions they work under here. It has been great to experience that CfDP/Cyberhus has been a part of the inspiration to a process which will lead to a very strong digital counselling offer to the children and teens of the country.
I would like to congratulate the participants on their new helpline and look forward to following their work.
Written by Erroll Marshall