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Online Help for Young People - Final Conference of the Project Ch@dvice

by Jessica Euler, Stiftung Digitale Chancen
Published on: 08.03.13
Source: eigener Bericht

Are chats an appropriate form of counselling for children and young people? How widely are they distributed in the various European countries? What can chat counselling provide and where are its limits? What topics are discussed there? How can a new chat be established successfully? These and other questions about the challenges and opportunities of online counselling via chat systems for adolescents are the topics of the EU project Ch@dvice, which was concluded on the 26th of February 2013 with the final conference 'online help for young people' in Brussels.

Three representatives of the European Parliament, Birgit Sippel, Antonyia Parvanova and Sabine Verheyen, emphasised the transnational significance of the topic through their presence and made the event perfect.

The research subjects of the project Ch@dvice are existing online counselling websites throughout Europe. Factors which distinguish the services from each other and influence how they are used are availability, type and location of the offer on the website, the counselling by volunteers or professionals (such as social workers) and whether the users’ anonymity is protected or the counselling is free of charge.

The anonymity of the person seeking help has been used as a significant example. On the one hand, anonymity may lower the threshold for young people to turn to a counselling service. On the other hand, it may complicate long-term counselling and thus prevent possibilities to act in emergency situations. In addition, the collection of data relating to the protection of anonymity was discussed controversially, data collection being a prerequisite for the assessment of the relevance and effect of the service and its improvement.

Among other things, the fact that young people can not only use the services of their own country but also, depending on their language skills, different offers worldwide was seen as problematic. Everyone agreed that chat counselling cannot be the only counselling services, since children and youths unfamiliar with the internet have a right to receive assistance, too. There is currently no reliable data by which access young people get to these web offers and how this access (for example by technical limitations implemented by adults) is / can be controlled or prevented.

Subsequently to this, four different institutions from Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands with experiences in online counselling introduced themselves and their fields of activity. They gave the audience an insight into the practical world of online counselling.

The counselling services are manifold and broadly spread. In order to bring together institutions working in the field of "Digital Youth Services", to enhance the exchange and to promote cooperation, the European 'Digital Youth Care Network'' was established. The second part of the conference opened with the launch of the website.

At the end of the conference, Tink Palmer (Marie Collins Foundation) and Karl Hopwood (INSAFE) presented findings from recent research on the subject of (online) risks for children and youths and relevant support services and invited the participants of the conference to discuss recommendations and future needs.

One major concern was the protection of young people by improving the data protection law at European level as well as establishing a Europe-wide guideline for online counselling - where currently the country-specific laws are still a problem. Moreover, it was noted that there is a lack of research which is in fact the most important basis for common rules for counselling services.

In their new project SocialWeb - SocialWork on the subject of the safety internet of vulnerable children and young people, Stiftung Digitale Chancen as project coordinator builds the basis for the usage of online counselling. The project is located in the field of social work for children and youths. Through specific trainings, social workers are empowered to make disadvantaged children and young people aware of the dangers on the net, to prevent these dangers and, for instance, use online counselling when necessary.

The one-day event was implemented by the project members of the Ch@dvice project Child Focus and Arteveldehogeschool in Belgium as well as the Austrian Institute for Applied Telecommunications (ÖIAT).

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