Cayman kids who need an ear for their troubles have a new place to go.
The Kids Helpline, a service being provided by the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre goes online Friday. Young people who need some support, whether it be because of bullying, a bad relationship, suicidal thoughts or something else, can call and talk to a confidential counselor from 3-6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Ania Milanowska, executive director of the Crisis Centre, said the pilot program, which she hopes will add more hours in the future, has been a long time coming.
“Expanding our services to help children has been our dream for some time,” Ms. Milanowska said. “We started talking with teenagers and talking to them about their needs and this was one of their ideas.”
The teens also had some specific ideas on the title of the program, which at one point was the Child Helpline.
“They said, ‘If it’s called Child Helpline, we’re not calling,’” Ms. Milanowska said with a laugh.
She’s hoping to secure enough funding to make the helpline available 24/7 sometime next year.
Governor Martyn Roper, who attended a launch event of the helpline on Thursday, said providing kids with such an outlet can be critical.
“Childhood is a critical window of opportunity,” Governor Roper said. “Those who suffer adverse childhood experiences are more likely to experience negative consequences.”
He said poor physical and mental health, lower education, poverty and a greater risk of substance abuse and criminal activity can result.
“Late intervention,” he added, “increases the likelihood that these issues will follow children into and through adult life, resulting in ongoing costs to them as individuals and for our wider society.”
The helpline, he said, can be a part of addressing such issues, pointing the success of a similar U.K. program called Childline.
“There are many reasons why a child may need someone to talk to,” he said. “Enabling that support and advice is crucial.”
Len Layman, one of the founders of the Crisis Centre, said he and others began talking about the need for the helpline a decade ago, when childhood bullying was first getting added attention. The success of the Crisis Centre’s hotline for domestic abuse convinced him the service would be used if it was made available.
“Kids won’t always open up to another individual,” he said, referring to face-to-face contact. “There’s some anonymity in making a phone call.”
He later expressed his satisfaction to Ms. Milanowska.
“Congratulations,” he told her, “after all these years, it’s finally happening.”
Both the governor and Ms. Milanowska said the helpline would not be possible without a host of partnering agencies that had assisted the Crisis Centre in one way or another. Included were the U.K. National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command, the governor’s staff coordinating with the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, 911, the Department of Children and Family Services, the Department of Education, the Health Services Authority, the Family Resource Centre and independent mental health advocates.
The number for the helpline is 649-KIDS (5437). More information is available at www.cicc.ky.