Crisis calls from P.E.I. kids to help line increase 70% during pandemic

A crisis help line for kids has seen a 70 per cent increase in calls from P.E.I. during the COVID-19 pandemic, and social workers in the province are checking in with families at risk more often to watch for issues.

Social service workers checking in more often with kids at risk

A child with curly hair sits in a window. The child is turned away from the camera.
The pandemic is isolating vulnerable children and creating volatile situations at home, according to Katherine Hay with Kids Help Phone. (Costea Andrea M/Shutterstock)

A crisis help line for kids has seen a 70 per cent increase in calls from P.E.I. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We've seen an incredible increase in the last four weeks alone," said Katherine Hay, president and CEO of Kids Help Phone.

"Top issues in P.E.I. are an increase in sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, emotional abuse and self-harming," she said. 

Hay said the number of calls and texts is up across the country, as kids are home, isolated with their families, and dealing with the unknowns the pandemic involves. 

"What we're hearing from people, kids, literally the words they're using every single day, are 'I'm afraid. I'm worried. What are we going to do if we all get sick?'" said Hay. "They're worried about their families, their friends. We see those reactions as a direct result of COVID."

The friend situation is a problem for young people. They're lonely. They need their friends.— Katherine Hay, Kids Help Phone

Families across the country are dealing with a loss or reduction of income, and the struggles to pay bills that result, along with ongoing concerns about the spread of COVID-19 and their own personal safety. Adding to the stress and volatility of some homes, is the isolation from friends, co-workers and other family members and not knowing when that will change. 

All that is triggering behaviours that might not otherwise surface, said Hay, and people are feeling vulnerable and unsettled.

Social workers 'in very close contact' with clients

Social workers on P.E.I. are also "staying in very close contact" and are on alert for potential problems with client families, said a spokesperson for the Department of Social Development and Housing in an email to CBC.

"They have increased phone communication with families and also continue to go out to see the children/youth and families as needed while keeping health and safety protocols in place," said the email. These workers have been deemed essential by the chief public health officer.

Across the country, there's been an increase in calls from kids stressed and anxious about the pandemic situation, said Katherine Hay, president and CEO of Kids Help Phone. (Tynan Studio)

They're also using a special checklist to make sure families are getting the supports they need. It was developed by a provincial subcommittee on domestic violence (with members from the departments of Social Development and Housing, Justice and Public Safety, and the interministerial women's secretariat).

Social workers, and other service providers ask the client: 

  • Do you have what you need? (food, housing, income, child care, medication, access to supports).
  • Who is staying in your home? Is everyone OK? Are things tense? Do you feel safe?
  • Are you working outside the home? Who's looking after the kids? Who's feeding the kids?
  • Are you looking after anyone outside the home?
  • Are you able to limit who comes into your home?
  • Are you worried about the time kids have been out of school? Are you aware of home learning resources?
  • What's your stress level on a scale of 1-10? What's troubling you the most? 
  • Have police been to your home recently? Do you have a safe place if you experience violence? (if family violence is suspected).
  • What do you need most right now?

Stress, anxiety, abuse, isolation

Kids Help Phone is getting about 2,500 calls or texts a day from across the country, compared to 1,500 calls or texts a day that came before the pandemic. "That's a lot," said Hay.

About 40 per cent of those calls are related to stress and anxiety, and there are increasing calls about abuse and isolation. 

"The friend situation is a problem for young people. They're lonely. They need their friends," she said.

I encourage people to reach out. No problem is too small.- Katherine Hay, Kids Help Phone

Counsellors are hearing from kids as young as five and adults up to 27, she said.

"I think the important thing is that they're not alone — that they can call or text 24 hours a day. And that in itself is an incredible thing for anyone, at two in the morning or two in the afternoon, they can get some help," said Hay.

Sometimes concerns can be resolved with a chat with a professional counsellor. Sometimes a counsellor can help the child work out a safety plan to keep them from harm.

If the caller is at risk of violence or self-harm, Kids Help Phone work with RCMP, local police or EMS to respond.

The national counselling service is free to young people around the clock, by calling 1-800-668-6868 or texting 686868 or 741741. 

"I encourage people to reach out," said Hay. "No problem is too small." 

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.
  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.



Sally Pitt


Sally Pitt is a producer with CBC and has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years in online, TV, radio and print. She specializes in justice issues and also works with the CBC Atlantic Investigative Unit. You can reach her at