ChildLine T&T programme manager Leevun Solomon.

[email protected]

Rising unemployment and a disruption to formal education due to the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting negatively on children, triggering an increase in suicide ideation, self-harm and depression caused by isolation.

Because of this, ChildLine T&T is now planning to launch an app that will provide direct support to children in need, including those from the migrant community.

Speaking to Guardian Media yesterday, programme manager Leevun Solomon said the restrictions caused by COVID-19 and the disruption in the formal school system had exacerbated depression among children.

Although he could not provide exact statistics, Solomon said children needed additional support in these trying times.

“My ChildLine is intended to be a digital hub for all resources and organisations related to child protection in Trinidad and Tobago. It was created to reach children and young persons in need of care and support. The app has different features, one of which is the ability to call our toll free helpline directly, which is available 24/7,” Solomon revealed.

He explained that the app will also provide the option for children and youths under the age of 25 to talk via webchat, available from 8 am to 8 pm.

“There are also other cool features such as information on the rights of a child and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,” Solomon said.

The app was built in collaboration with UNICEF and ChildLine and offers a range of resources related to protecting children.

“We are looking to launch the app tomorrow (today) or Friday and we will be doing that across all data platforms, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and even on the website childlinett.org.”

Solomon said while the app has features for story-telling, it also enables children to report serious issues.

“Children now are at risk because they are confined to homes. Schools, for some children, was a place of refuge where they could get something to eat, a place where they could socialise but now we have children locked down at home 24/7 and they have to adapt to the new normal,” Solomon noted.

Noting that this was creating a negative impact on the psyche of children, Solomon added, “We are seeing right now a rise in cases of self-harming and suicidal ideation and depression in isolation. With the app, children could request counselling, of course with the consent of parents or their guardians.”

Asked whether the app was safe, Solomon said, “There is a personal lock on the app. The developer has to comment on the safety but it is pretty safe. We have fingerprint encryption to lock your personal diary. There is a personal diary on the app and a daily mood tracker to how you are feeling on each day of the app and that is also encrypted.”

He noted that the app was meant to provide a range of resources to all children, even displaced migrant families.

“The app is available in French and Spanish so children everywhere could enter anytime. The Venezuelan migrant children who are in need of support can also reach out to us.

“We have a bilingual service to offer them support. We also want to have online workshops with parents about how to talk to children about difficult topics. This is where we need to reach them more than ever,” he said.

Asked whether ChildLine had teamed up with the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs and the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services to offer counselling, Solomon said at times referrals are made.

However, he said the ministry often has a backlog.

He said ChildLine T&T had over 20 members, inclusive of several psychologists and psychiatrists who provide free counselling to children in need. Training of more staff is also currently underway.

The programme manager encouraged children to download the app once it is launched. He said users can also participate in an online competition for Universal Children’s Day which will be celebrated on November 20.

Prizes have been sponsored by Pennywise and ChildLine.