Finland has many well-established helplines for young people and adults. Primary school children, however, did not have an easy-to-use channel where they could ask for help if they feel unsafe, threatened or in need of support from a reliable adult. The Apuu chat was designed to meet exactly this need. Its stripped-down user interface is compatible with a wide range of devices and internet connections, including modest ones.
The helpline chat serves 7–12-year-old children every day from 9 am to 10 pm. Through the chat, children can reach SOS Children’s Villages child welfare professionals as well as trained volunteers who listen to the children and help them reach local services when necessary.
Children most commonly use the chat to discuss anxiety, bullying, relationships with their friends and concerns about their parents. However, the number of contacts for serious reasons are growing at an alarming rate. On a weekly basis, children use the chat to discuss matters that the helpline adult reports to the police or child welfare services or that requires emergency social services.
The chat team leader is Johanna Virtanen, who is project manager at SOS Children’s Villages Finland and also works with support families.
“Children contact us for very different reasons. Many children come from perfectly ordinary families, but they want to discuss and go over day-to-day matters with an adult. They may need an adult to encourage them to bring the matters up with their own parents. Children also talk about their relationships with their friends and about entering puberty”, says Virtanen.
“The other group of children who contact us are children who are facing an emergency or who have experienced threatening situations for a long time. We will tell them what kind of help is available in their situation.”
“We file about three child welfare reports a week. The number would be higher if children only agreed to provide enough information about themselves. But we must remember that children use the service anonymously, and they must be able to trust that they themselves can choose how to proceed in their situation. Children’s rights safeguard children’s ability to influence matters that pertain themselves. We must respect this.”
In every discussion, the helpline adult makes a plan together with the child as to how the matter in hand might be solved.
“We thought that it would take a long time for children to learn to trust us, but children are able to share their thoughts and feelings amazingly directly and honestly. For them, the chat interaction is genuine and valuable. Based on the feedback we have received, it is important that children are heard and that someone pauses to really consider their situation”, says Virtanen.
For the chat team, working on the chat is both energising and taxing.
“The children who contact us are so smart and lovely. Unfortunately, many of them have to bear more responsibility than any child should.”
Children have contacted the Apuu chat more than 11,000 times in just a few months. The chat is intended to become a permanent helpline for young children who need help. The chat runs on donations.
This year, MuniFin donates its EUR 10,000 Christmas card fund to support the work of the Apuu chat, which is run by the SOS Children’s Villages Finland.Information about the Apuu chat has been distributed in schools, through social media influencers and as part of outreach youth work done online to actively reach children in need of help. The chat is available at apuu.fi.