Two outstanding student leaders have endorsed the newly established 24-hour dedicated child and teen helpline – SafeSpot.
Chairman of the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) Children’s Advisory Panel, Ronaldinho McLean, and National Secondary Students Council (NSSC) Public Relations Officer, Ree-Anna Robinson, voiced their support and that of their respective organisations during the recent digital launch.
The toll-free helpline is 888-SAFESPOT (888-723-7768). In addition to the SafeSpot helpline, youngsters can send a WhatsApp message to 876-439-5199, or relay a direct message via Instagram or SnapChat to @safespotja.
The helpline is a multisectoral initiative involving the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Jamaica Office, and the OCA, which manages it.
It is intended to provide prompt responses to youngsters’ concerns by eliminating delays and increasing access to trained professionals who can assist them when they need this level of intervention most.
Other partner stakeholders on the initiative are the British High Commission in Jamaica, National Commercial Bank, GraceKennedy, the Wisynco Group, and the Flow and Digicel Foundations that will facilitate technology/telecommunication and other support.
Ronaldinho, a student of Campion College, said the helpline “could not [have come at] a more crucial time”, particularly in light of the far-reaching rippling effects that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has, especially on Jamaica’s youth, while underscoring “the seriousness with which we consider this issue”.
He noted that prior to the pandemic’s onset, “we were seeing astonishing increases in the rate of teenage suicide” and a “mental health epidemic of significant proportions”, both locally and globally.
Ronaldinho pointed out that COVID-19 contributed to exposing and exacerbating those issues, which have been further worsened, in a number of instances, by other underlying factors.
These, he outlined, include: youngsters’ less than desirable living arrangements and conditions; and deteriorating child-parent relationships resulting from adult-child trust deficits.
Ronaldinho said against this background, the OCA Children’s Advisory Panel will “offer our complete and unyielding support for this landmark [SafeSpot helpline] initiative,” and “we say kudos to all who have made it possible”.
For her part, Ree-Anna, a student of Immaculate Conception High School, said the NSSC believed that the SafeSpot helpline was of “utmost importance”, as it would aid in supporting children and youth in the areas of greatest need.
“Not only to provide a listening ear for young people but also to provide a space where they can solicit advice on their issues,” she added.
Ree-Anna said the NSSC was “especially overjoyed” that the helpline ensures that youngsters have 24-hour access to the professionals with whom they can interact, thereby “removing huge barriers, which guarantees that [the programmed interventions will] reach as many children and young people as possible/
“We will, in our own way, seek to become a partner in bringing awareness to the offerings of this hotline, via our own social platforms,” she added.
Also endorsing SafeSpot were Executive Director of the Flow Foundation, Kayon Mitchell, and Chief Executive Officer for the Digicel Foundation, Charmaine Daniels.
Ms. Mitchell, who also spoke during the launch, described the decision to establish a 24-hour toll-free helpline as a “major move”.
She said the added elements of access by SMS messaging, e-mail, WhatsApp and social media “mean that children can communicate using platforms with which they are most comfortable”.
“This bodes well for the successful take-up of this service, and we are happy that Flow is [one of] the telecommunications partners for this game-changing initiative,” she added.
Ms. Mitchell noted that the economic, emotional and social impact of COVID-19 has been “astounding.”
“Numerous studies [show] that this ‘new normal’ is difficult for adults; but imagine how it must feel for a child during this time,” she said.
Ms. Mitchell contended that “it is already challenging being a child, pre-teen or teenager… but living throughout this pandemic has intensified the fear and uncertainty that comes at this time in life”.
Against this background, she said establishing the SafeSpot helpline was a “significant step in the right direction”, adding that the Flow Foundation was “pleased to assist in making this a reality”.
Ms. Daniels said Digicel’s overall contribution, in cash and kind, will go a far way in alleviating and relieving the OCA of the cost of operating the toll-free line by zero-rating calls to this helpline, thereby enabling a child to call at any time, with or without credit.
She said the entity was also supporting the digital rollout of the OCA’s promotional campaign, “to ensure that we reach the children where they are and raise awareness about the helpline”.
“This is the power of partnership. This project is one of the many examples of how, as people, we are better together. Let’s continue working together to create a world where no one gets left behind. We welcome this SafeSpot initiative,” Ms. Daniels added.
Children’s Advocate, Diahann Gordon Harrison, assures that SafeSpot will provide the safety net for youngsters who could potentially “fall between the cracks” for a number of reasons.
She added that the facility will cover the “full spectrum” of issues affecting youngsters, including isolation and trauma.