COVID-19 has Kids Help Phone calling for more volunteers as service swamped with calls

Kids Help Phone is looking for more volunteers as it deals with hundreds of additional calls from children and youth worried about the impact of COVID-19.

Service anticipating minimum of 2,000 phone and texts a day in the next week or so

Kids Help Phone president and CEO Katherine Hay says the number of calls from youth with concerns about COVID-19 has jumped 350 per cent over two weeks ago. ( TYNANSTUDIO)

Kids Help Phone is dealing with huge jump in the number of young people calling the national hotline about COVID-19, prompting an urgent call for more volunteers to help field the hundreds of additional calls a day. 

"Words we're hearing right now [are], 'scared,' 'nervous,' 'Where are my friends,' 'What's happening with my family?'" said Katherine Hay, the president and CEO of the free support and counselling service. 

Over the past two weeks, Hay said the number of young people contacting the help line about COVID-19 has jumped 350 per cent. 

Hay expects the numbers to go up even more as the days go by.

"Every single day at Kids Help Phone, we speak to about 1,500 young people through phone, chat and text. We are anticipating a minimum of 2,000 phone and texts in the next week or so," she told CBC Toronto.

Hay says kids are not immune to depression or anxiety over social isolation and money concerns. 

"We are worried about increased suicide ideation with young people," Hay said. 

"We are also worried with increased isolation with domestic violence and abuse."

To deal with the added demand for help, Kids Help Phone is looking to train more volunteers to become crisis responders and answer texts from young people looking for support. 

Kids Help Phone provides about 38 hours of rigorous training online. Volunteers are supported by professional counsellors who work from home. Hay hopes to have 100 new volunteers trained every week for the next six weeks to continue to help kids 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Kids Help Phone anticipates longer wait times over the next few weeks. 

The wait to see a reply to a text is about five minutes. If you are in crisis, the wait time is about 40 seconds.   

Hay says wait times on the phone are longer; that's why the service is looking for more volunteers, but she feels her team will be able to keep up with the volume.

To help ensure all staff and volunteers are available across the country, Kids Help Phone is moving this week to have everyone work remotely from home.   

"It's a Herculean task to move administration and our counsellors remote. It's a bit of a war room here, but it is important that our staff are safe," said Hay.