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Child Abuse Is The Biggest Issue Affecting Young People In Crisis: Report

Kids Helpline interventions rose by more than 150 percent over four years.

12/04/2017 6:20 PM AEST | Updated 12/04/2017 7:10 PM AEST
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Mental health issues were the highest reason for calls to counsellors.

Kids Helpline (KHL) duty of care interventions for children and young people in crisis situations have jumped more than 150 percent over four years, with child abuse overtaking suicide attempts as the number one cause for action for the second year running.

Of 1,907 emergency duty of care interventions launched during 2016 for children and young people who were deemed to be at immediate risk of harming themselves or others, 38 percent were due to abuse according to the 2016 Kids Helpline Insights Report released on April 5. A further 34 percent were caused by suicide attempts and 28 percent caused by other issues

The report also showed that, of the 181,165 contact calls made in 2016 to the KHL, 66,963 were by children and young people seeking access to counselling services. Of those, 23 percent were related to mental health concerns, 19 percent based on family relationship issues, 17 percent linked to emotional wellbeing, 13 percent suicide-related and 10 percent connected to issues with dating or partners.

CEO of YourTown, the organisation behind the KHL, Tracy Adams told The Huffington Post Australia the findings reflect the increase in serious crisis issues dealt with by children and young people and the need for early intervention and prevention in those situations.

"The insights show us that from kids' outlined perspectives, we're continuing to see increases in really serious issues, crisis issues, from young people who continue to seek support," she said.

"In regards to duty of care interventions, we've seen child abuse be a leading issue for two years in a row and it certainly has now bypassed suicide attempts. When we look at the overall counselling contacts, we're seeing mental health and suicide related concerns be the most significant from that context.

"What we really want to be focused on is early intervention and prevention and we have to keep challenging ourselves as an organisation and to keep educating ourselves as a community."

Adams said YourTown and the KHL are "fundamentally" focused on ensuring the wellbeing of children and young people and maintaining support services that work to limit the numbers of children and young people exposed to crisis circumstances where a duty of care intervention may be needed.

"Fundamentally the work we do with young people is to focus on their wellbeing, to work with them to develop strategies, to provide support," she said.

"In a duty of care situation, the first and foremost concern has to be a child's wellbeing before anything else."

With an increased online presence and changes to technology, the Insights report also showed a 151 percent increase in online conversations between young people and KHL counsellors over the past 4 years, increasing from 12,643 in 2012 to 31,765 contacts in 2016, according to a statement.

Adams told HuffPost Australia duty of care interventions typically involve alerting emergency services authorities when a child or young person may be at immediate risk of harm or of harming someone else. The interventions also focus on providing ongoing support and assistance for the families of those involved.

"Duty of care interventions have also been actioned because of drug overdoses, harm to others, self injury, sexual assault, homelessness, domestic violence, assault, child exploitation and physical health. We can literally save young lives," she said.

"It is a very humbling experience to talk to the families of a young person who ring or contact the service to say, 'because of what happened, because of that intervention, my child is alive and getting the help that they need'.

"That's first and foremost our priority, but then also that the family and the young person are getting ongoing help and support."

The Kids Helpline is a 24-hour, 7-days support service provided for children and young people via telephone or online that pairs them with a professionally trained counsellor or support worker and a network of on-the-ground service providers that can help with emergency and crisis situations.

"It's confidential for young people, it's a professional service. Our counsellors are there specifically to support young people," Adams said.

"Sometimes that includes supporting the family and connecting them with on the ground service providers."

Adams told HuffPost Australia the statistics reveal the need for the KHL to remain relevant for young people and for local communities to be proactive when it comes to destigmatising help-seeking and counselling.

"One of the things that we have to keep being very mindful about is ensuring the service stays relevant to young people. For us it's about continuing ways to communicate with young people on their terms," she said.

"We continue to be concerned around some of the cases of non-help seeking that we see, in particular with young men. We truly believe that at the moment there's a lot more engagement in services like KHL by females and younger women but we need to look for ways to encourage young men to seek that ongoing ability to seek support.

"I think that we all need to be proactively involved in informing and educating ourselves. The other thing is, if we do feel that something's not right, be proactive and ask a young person or a child if everything's OK.

As part of the KHL service, the 'Kids Helpline @ School' program launched in 2014 and works towards providing information and materials to primary schools for early intervention and prevention of issues affecting children and young people and pairing classes with counsellor services.

"Working with young people, destigmatising seeking out counsellors and help is one part of the conversation about good behaviour online and respectful relationships and to seek help if something is troubling you. That's the philosophy behind the kids helpline in-school program," Adams said.

"We as an organisation are wanting to learn more and do more and engage with young people directly about what needs to be done to stop those types of trends.

"I think the KHL is significantly focused on being a service for the community and its very much for the community to be aware that the service is there for all children and young people to encourage young people and families to use our resources, to feel they can engage with the service."

If you or someone you know is needing help, Kids Helpline can be contacted on 1800 55 1800, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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