SOS Malta, the Salesians of Don Bosco in Malta and Appogg, under the guidance of Child Helpline International, are currently working in partnership to set-up the project kellimni.com. This initiative will involve online support services run by trained volunteers.
To offer one-to-one, real-time online support services to children and adolescents who are suffering from any form of social exclusion, abuse, neglect, and/or psychological difficulties and are in need of immediate emotional, moral and social support. The trained volunteer will support the service user or guide them with referrals to other professional services.
PRINCIPLES UNDERLYING THE PROJECT
Focus on Children’s Rights
Online support services are founded on the belief that children and adolescents have rights and are able to identify their problems. Children have a right to demand for care and protection.
The kellimni.com project will be based on the rights afforded to children in the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child. Furthermore, its implementation will specifically recognise Articles 12 and 13 of the UNCRC, which ascertains children’s rights to express their views and to be heard in matters that affect them.
The kellimni.com project will be implemented on the premise of accessibility. For the online support services to be effective among children and adolescents, they first need to know about the service and understand what it can do for them. Outreach and awareness-raising activities will therefore be key components of the kellimni.com project. These activities and related initiatives will be geared towards ensuring accessibility to the most marginalised of children.
The service will be accessible to all children and adolescents, however the online services’ main focus will be on young people suffering from any form of social exclusion, abuse, neglect, and/or psychological difficulties. The service will seek to reach out to children and adolescents who are denied or stripped of their rights – particularly young people experiencing abuse or neglect; differently-abled children; children whose families are in crisis; children who are bullied by their peers or superiors; child addicts; children who are being discriminated against on the basis of religious, racial or sexual grounds; and children in conflict with the law.
Description of Online Support
Online support is when a trained volunteer talks to a person over the internet, providing emotional support, mental health advice or some other professional service. It takes the form of question and answer, or of an ongoing conversation; facilitated either via e-mail, chat or forum. The volunteer will support the service user or guide them with referrals to other professional services.
The internet today is part of children’s and adolescents’ natural environment. Most children and adolescents have access to the internet in Malta – either at school or at home – and they tend to spend between one to two hours daily on the web. They use the internet both for educational and entertainment purposes. They use the internet both for educational and entertainment purposes. Research carried out by the National Statistics Office of Malta in 2005 titled “Survey on the Use of the Internet by Students” revealed that out of a total of 3,231 children interviewed, 3,060 use a computer compared to 171 who do not. 2,432 of these students use their computer at home.
Through its chat and networking applications, the internet has become a source of socialisation among children and youth. It has also become a source of refuge for some experiencing social exclusion, neglect or a personal difficulty. The latter represents a catchment area of children who are in need of attention and of being listened to, but who might be reluctant or unable to access existing support services in the traditional face-to-face manner or on the phone.
At a Global Portal for Children Taskforce meeting held in Amsterdam in June 2006, Child Helpline International noted that online services for children are a good addition to child counseling services and telephone helplines. It seems that children are more inclined towards writing an email or instant messaging (chat) than to pick up the phone. Within existing e-counseling services for children in other countries, there seem to be very few “prank” emails or chat sessions and it appears that the subject matter is often of a more serious nature, with abuse cases and potential suicides appearing more often than via the telephone.
‘ Safer Internet for Children’, Eurobarometer Qualitative Survey in 29 European Countries, National Analysis: Malta, April 2007, p.7
 Supportline 179 Hotline, Annual Report 2006, section 1.5