A volunteer at the National Runaway Safeline for 6 months, Beatriz shares her experiences communicating with youth in need in our crisis services center.
Support is the top priority of a National Runaway Safeline (NRS) frontline volunteer (aka ‘liner’), and it is essential that the liner responding to a phone call or live chat create a sympathetic, encouraging atmosphere for the youth to share the details of their situation.
Beatriz has been a frontline team member for six months. She divides her volunteer shift time between NRS’ live chats and the 24-hour 1-800-RUNAWAY hotline; two different ways of communicating with youth that require different tactics for offering support.
“I’ve been doing a lot of live chats,” says Beatriz. “It’s very different from call-ins because you don’t have the voice and you don’t hear the tone. You have to guess a little more because you can’t hear. You have to be very careful what you write because it’s not the same as when you talk to someone. You can say things and they go away. When you write them down, they’re there. You have to be very careful and use a lot of supportive statements because it’s more permanent.”
It’s easy to understand why live chat has become more prevalent at NRS considering how much time young people spend online. NRS’ online services (live chat, crisis emails, and forum) require the liners to provide thoughtful written responses to ensure the youth has been supported. With a Ph.D. in literature, Beatriz has been writing for over 50 years, and she’s now using those skills to help guide youth in crisis to find solutions to their problems.
Whenever possible, NRS encourages youth to call, especially if this situation, are complicated. The Home Free program, in conjunction with Greyhound Lines, Inc., requires liners to get considerable personal information prior to providing the youth with a bus ticket. Youth can be hesitant about providing the details the liners need to qualify them for the program and make the travel arrangements.
“For a lot of reasons, some youth are not forthcoming at first,” says Beatriz. “We need to know where they’re going, and who is the person they’re going to, and it’s sometimes challenging to get that information. You have to keep asking questions and using supportive statements so they feel comfortable and safe and keep talking.”
Most of Beatriz’s interactions have involved teens and young adults contemplating running away. “I remember one young girl who was pretty upset and crying because she didn’t want to stay at home with her parents. She was 16,” says Beatriz. “We talked about alternatives to running away.” Beatriz and the young girl talked about finding someone that could offer her help, like a friend, another family member, or a counselor.
Beatriz makes sure to end all her calls and chats by asking the youth what his/her plan is for the future so that s/he doesn’t hang up the phone without having some idea of what to do next. Because it’s not just about giving support in the now, but being mindful of how the youth is going to get more support once s/he moves away from the phone or computer. The struggle doesn’t stop for the youth once the conversation ends, but hopefully, that conversation will lead the youth to the help s/he needs.
Beatriz has been a frontline team member for six months.