Principles and objectives behind the operational guidelines

Creating an environment in which kids and teens feel safe to voice their problems and concerns and ask for help poses certain challenges. The Operational guidelines therefore build on 4 principles: 

  1. The child or teenager is considered unique, as is each counselling session
  2. Counselling builds on/departs from the child or teenager’s individual strengths, resources and conception of the situation and problem at hand
  3. Respect for the child or teenager’s integrity, anonymity, history and identity
  4. Respecting the declaration of confidentiality

The aim is to support and motivate the child or teenager to move on with his or her life by listening and offering personalised advice. The goal is twofold:

1. To establish a safe and unprejudiced environment where the child or teen feels free to express her or himself and thereby helping the child or teen to clarify options and/or resolve problems.

2. To motivate the child or teen to seek help in his or her local area by suggesting possible solutions and options and referring to relevant authorities or counselling.

Operational Guidelines: Main points

Format

  • Counselling can only take place in the counselling room at the helpline’s computers. The chat-system is locked to a unique IP address and encrypted to avoid unwelcome visitors, e.g. hackers, and to ensure anonymity
  • Only counsellors can be present in the counselling room during the opening hours of the chat counselling
  • A professional counsellor/coordinator has to be present at all times
  • All members of the counselling team must have signed the Declaration of Confidentiality and a Child Protection Certificate
  • It is mandatory for volunteer counsellors to work at least two shifts a month amounting to eight hours monthly to keep updated
  • After each chat session the counsellor has to fill out a registration form regarding the chat session

Training

  • All counsellors must be trained in accordance with the training module
  • Professional counsellors and coordinators are subject to group supervision, as a minimum on quarterly basis, and can at all times get professional feedback if needed
  • Counsellors receive collegial supervision from coordinators and professional counsellors at the end of each shift

Method

  • Counsellors are to reach the objectives of the helpline by, at all times, focusing on being motivating, supportive, empathic, listening to the child and being present, explorative and disseminating.

Filing sensitive data in connection to reports

  • In connection to reporting, all sensitive data has to be filed and securely stored in order to maintain anonymity for the parties involved. Prints of the report and confirmation from the relevant authority are to be filed together with a copy of the chat or the online report made by the child (stored on a USB stick with the report). The report and other personal data are under no circumstances to be available on computers online or offline, nor in printing, aside from the stored file.

Operational Guidelines: technical and safety points

All helpline data is transferred via encrypted channels, and access to data is restricted to helpline staff members by password and IP-restriction. The processing and registration of any personal information follow the legal framework regarding data-protection. All counsellors sign confidentiality commitments as part of the counselling in relation to confidential information or sensitive personal information, including information on ethnicity, religion, social and health information. This obligation follows The Criminal Code § 152. Processing of personal data is done in accordance with applicable law, including the Act on Processing of Personal Data (Act No. 429 of 31 May 2000). CDYC has implemented all necessary procedures in relation to comply data and privacy security according to the EU General Data Protection Regulation.

Chat Counselling Application

CDYCs chat application is done through an encrypted connection (HTTPS), thereby ensuring that chat conversations cannot be intercepted and read by third parties. The underlying software is kept constantly updated with security updates. The chat is designed to scale to large numbers of simultaneous users. The solution uses node.js, which is particularly suitable for “real-time” communication as a chat. 

The use of servers

The servers are virtual Linux machines, where only authorized personnel have access to the administration. Performance and capacity of the servers can be scaled as needed. They are kept updated and scanned for safety. The servers are protected by firewalls at multiple levels. The use of data centres: CDYC is using a server located in professionally managed data centres in Iceland, which is certified according to international standards (ISO 9001 and ISO 27001). The data centres are monitored 24/7 and are properly secured against power failures and data loss. Daily backup is ensured. Iceland is a part of the EEA and complies with legislation concerning the storage of personal data to third countries. 

Computer and legislation

It is key for any given chat session, that as little data as possible is stored on the end users in order to ensure their anonymity. No personal data is saved. All chats are saved temporarily in the server’s RAM, and cannot be accessed after the chat session is terminated. Coordinators of the system will have access to the functions and data which are cited in the user management. Employees who need to access data in a computer system in connection with development, maintenance, and operations, may only be authorized to do so with a unique identification.

Training Module

The training module consists of: Training of new counsellors and Training of experienced chat-counsellors.

Training of new chat-counsellors

We receive and integrate new volunteers on a regular basis. The training session is intense and runs for two months. In the beginning, volunteers are required to use a number of hours on a weekly basis to become familiar with our concept, the site, and the requirements and different functions.

It is primarily the responsibility of the Coordinating Team to ensure quality and development of new counsellors. However, it is also up to the entire team of counsellors to participate in the training of new counsellors by contributing with feedback, constructive discussion, coaching, and inputs.

During the initial training period, introduction to the written language as means of communication is highly prioritised. It is important that the counsellor develops an awareness of the language so he/she is able to adjust his/her language to the user’s language or problem. Moreover, it is important to train the counsellor to develop an open and analytical approach to the written word without losing professional distance.

Training Module

1. Initial conversation: A counsellor will outlay the job and present the helpline:

  • The function and virtual interior of the helpline
  • Functions of the advisory functions
  • Use of Registration Forms (registration of the type and length of interaction)
  • Function of the intranet: where work schedules, tasks, meetings and events are posted
  • Expected participation in activities and meetings
  • The helpline’s values and focus points when meeting children and young people online
  • Routines of the counselling team in relation to shifts, guidelines, RUS-conversations (Counsellor- development/status conversations), team meetings, and general expectations

Handouts: Child Protection Certificate – a kind of equivalent to The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) Enhanced Disclosure – listing convictions of assaults against children, sexual abuse of children, child porn and incest, a Declaration of Confidentiality, and contact information – all to be filled in and handed over to the coordinator before leaving the meeting. This is based on ethical considerations, and the counsellor cannot start working before the Child Protection Certificate is approved by the police.

2. Observation of counseling sessions and introduction to the intranet: In this initial period, the trainee observes experienced counsellors at work. They will observe the counsellor giving counseling, and thus, acquire knowledge of how to advise children and teens, and how to approach different subjects and problems. At the same time, the trainee gets an idea of the routines and what it means to be a counsellor at the helpline. On the first day of training, the trainee, if still interested in continuing, is registered and receives login to the chat and intranet.

3. Test counselling: A coordinator will act as a child/teenager while the trainee assumes the role of counsellor. This way, the trainee learns how to communicate with another person about serious and tough issues, and also gets a sense of how it feels to counsel. The test counselling session will be followed by an evaluation and a talk about the trainee’s experiences: what went well and what was hard etc. After this session, the trainee is expected to be ready to start the last part of the training module. However, it is up to the coordinator to decide if more practice sessions are needed.

4. Counseling under supervision: The trainee will give counsel under the supervision of a coordinator or a professional counsellor. The trainee is in charge of the chat session. The coordinator will advise the trainee, as needed and requested, and comment on content and the written form. The close supervision will take place until the trainee feels secure enough to counsel on his/her own, though at least seven times. The decision is made between the trainee and the Coordinator Team, based on the evaluation of the trainee’s readiness to counsel without close supervision.

5. Ready to counsel: When ready to counsel, the trainee will be integrated into the Counselling Team in line with the experienced counsellors. A coordinator is present at all timers and ready to help if any special or difficult situations should occur, or if the counsellors have any questions or experience doubts. Often, there will be several volunteer counsellors present in one session. This way, the counsellors can get help both from each other and from a coordinator, and the coordinators can engage in knowledge exchange with the counsellors.

Maintaining high-quality professionalism

Volunteers receive continuous coaching, evaluation and education. Also, volunteers who have long since completed their training receive continuous support and guidance in regards to the specific chat conversations in which they have engaged during their shift. So, they may always seek information on a certain subject with the coordinator responsible, and receive help to find the best options possible or referrals, regarding the person they are chatting with.

Finally, the Coordinating Team meet four times a year in order to evaluate the status of each volunteer counsellor, and planning joint information meetings. At the same time, the Coordinating Team uses these meetings to keep each other updated on current themes prevalent in the chatroom, along with any knowledge and information which is important to pass on to the volunteer counsellors.  

Digital Agenda For Europe

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Center for Digital Pædagogik and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union. 

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