While adults have friends, coworkers, and counselors they can call or chat with online for help, children have limited options as to who they can turn to for help. their problems.
With this in mind, the Buddy Bear Child Helpline was set up by KL-based registered social enterprise, HumanKind.
Buddy Bear began operations during the Movement Control Order (MCO) in March. Its goal was to help address the concerns of children during the pandemic and OLS. It promises a safe space where distressed children between the ages of six and 18 can call and talk to a confident adult about their worries and concerns, and get the support and help they need without being judged.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about drastic changes in the lives of adults and children. Stuck at home, the support system children relied on before the pandemic – friends and peers, games and sports, teachers and school – have all been taken out of the equation, ”says Pam Guneratnam, founder of HumanKind and Buddy Bear .
“Buddy Bear was created to meet this need – to give children a safe space to talk about their worries and concerns with an adult who is trained to listen to these children in a way that makes them feel supported and empowered. », Explains Guneratnam.
Now that the take-back MCO has been extended until the end of December, children may face problems when they return to school, as the danger of Covid-19 is far from over.
“As children return to school during the new normal, we have seen an increase in the number of adjustment problems and refusals to go to school,” Guneratnam says.
“Some children’s daily routines are so different and unstructured when confined at home that they have become nocturnal, and as such getting up early for school and resuming that routine has been a challenge.
“There is also the anxiety of catching the virus and all the rules of social distancing that can make a child feel overwhelmed, especially if the parents have used the fear to scare the child into respecting the rules. safety instructions, ”she adds.
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“Most adult helplines are already too busy handling adult cases, and they have to meet urgent basic needs such as food and support for families during the pandemic, so they can not having the time, nor being trained, to deal with the emotional needs of children, ”says Wong.
“Adults already know what to ask when they call, but kids usually don’t. They will call you to see if they can trust you before they reveal what is troubling them. It is normal for children to ‘test the call’ (not the prank call) by calling about five times and hanging up before speaking, ”says Wong, Child Safety and Safety Advisor and Trainer at Buddy Bear .
Dr Anita Codati, Fellow in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Tunku Azizah Hospital for Women and Children in Kuala Lumpur, speaking at the launch of Buddy Bear, gave an overview of the issues facing children were confronted during the pandemic.
“Children face a range of issues – whether online, offline or school-related – such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, substance abuse or drug addiction. Internet and gadgets, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and domestic and child abuse.
“Those who are marginalized – such as refugees and migrants, the urban and rural poor – are most affected, which could lead to behavioral and conduct problems. The lack of connection, especially during the MCO and conditional MCO period, with these children missing school, only made things worse, ”says Codati.
Buddy Bear hopes to improve the social and emotional well-being of children in underserved and vulnerable communities.
Guneratnam reaffirms that the protection and safety of children is of the utmost importance to Buddy Bear and as such all volunteers are specially trained to listen to children. They are also taught to help children identify and express their feelings and express their experiences. All volunteers are also trained in psychological first aid, supervised by licensed mental health professionals, and are committed to providing a responsible and ethical phone line for children.
“The volunteers are selected and interviewed personally. They are trained in child protection and children’s rights, and are put in teams with mental health professionals. Background checks are also done on volunteers to make sure they are not on the list of child offenders, ”she said.
Guneratnam reveals that HumanKind’s work with marginalized and low-income groups shows that children in these communities are at greater risk for negative experiences and have fewer support options.
“Parents can be so distracted and stressed by financial hardship and basic survival needs that they can easily overlook the emotional needs of children who are anxious and frightened by the pandemic.
“Additionally, for some children, the home is not a safe place: they can be trapped in a home where they are subjected to physical, emotional or sexual abuse by members of the household,” Guneratnam explains.
Urban children face high stress levels during the pandemic, Wong said, especially those living in PPR apartments where space is confined and their movement is restricted.
“The PJ Child Council (a program of the PJ City Council to make the city more child friendly) interviewed 500 children in the city and found that many of them did not have access to health facilities. About 40% can’t talk to their parents, so they usually talk to their friends instead. But during the MCO, it was not possible because there was no school, they could not meet and it was difficult to call, ”reveals Wong.
“They are also not used to online learning and many do not even have access to electronic devices and risk being left behind in their studies if the pandemic stretches for another one to two years.” , she says.
From calls to the helpline, Guneratnam surmises that the pandemic has made many children feel lonely, isolated and like they have nowhere to turn.
“One child said that a loved one was depressed and felt helpless. Parents ‘worries and arguments over family finances are also a concern because children are sensitive and easily pick up on their parents’ anxiety, ”she cites as an example.
An important role of child helplines is to empower the child to seek help and the pandemic has highlighted that such a dedicated child helpline is needed.
“In other global disasters such as earthquakes or floods, there is support and love, people come together as a community. People can go to safe areas and reach out to those in need. They can rebuild their lives because the disaster has passed. But how do you rebuild, when you don’t know when it will end? said Codati.
“During the pandemic, people are forced to be separated rather than in a community and for those who are not connected to social media and the Internet, their psychological needs are not being met,” she adds.
To contact Buddy Bear, children can dial: 1-800-18-BEAR (1-800-18-2327). Volunteers are available every day from 12 p.m. (noon) to 12 a.m. (midnight). They speak English, Bahasa Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. More information is available at: www.facebook.com/buddybear.humankind/