Violence against children happens at a devastatingly large scale, and Child Helpline International estimates that at least a billion children experience some form of mental or physical abuse each year. Long-accessed via a short, emergency number such as 119 for Childline France or 115 for Childline Zambia, child helplines receive more than 30 million calls annually, yet a devastating 30 percent of these calls go unanswered due to limited resources.
In 2003, Child Helpline International was founded by Jeroo Billimoria as a nonprofit consortium of 160 helplines across 140 countries. Fifteen years later Billimoria recognized that Child Helpline International’s member helplines desperately needed to upgrade their technology so that counselors could not only more effectively answer the 30 million calls placed each year, but also address the 10 million calls for help that went unanswered each year.
To create the solution, Billimoria reached out to Tech Matters, a Silicon Valley based nonprofit organization that uses the power of tech to support social sector innovators, to create a solution that could “reach as many children as possible, with the lowest cost possible” without sacrificing service quality.
With the enthusiastic support of Child Helpline International and its membership, Tech Matters interviewed over 25 member child helplines to better understand their processes and identify the areas for greatest opportunity. Ten were chosen to co-create Aselo with Tech Matters. It was immediately clear that the contact center needed to enable Child Helpline International members to adopt new channels that children felt more comfortable using than voice, like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and SMS.
Tech Matters also wanted to empower the child helpline services with consistent data collection for advocacy purposes. Child Helpline International’s vision is that “every child has a voice, and every child has a right to be heard.” Tech Matters and the member child helplines knew that giving children a voice meant being able to collect data on challenges facing children and the order of magnitude of these issues across member helplines. Armed with this data, Child Helpline International and its members could more effectively advocate for funding to support these issues and policies that protect children.
Lastly, Tech Matters knew that counselors are the constrained resource in the helpline ecosystem. To meet the goal of reaching twice as many children, Tech Matters and the co-creating child helplines designed a solution that simplified the administrative tasks a counselor must complete.
Tech Matters chose Twilio as the leading candidate to power the child helpline contact center because of Twilio’s global coverage and its customizable solutions. The team ultimately chose Twilio Flex, Twilio’s cloud-based contact center, to build a tailored helpline solution for Child Helpline International and its members called “Aselo.”
Aselo is a cloud-based, open-source modern contact center system for child helplines that connects young people on the platforms they use with the help they deserve.
To Jim Fruchterman, founder of Tech Matters, “Aselo is the equivalent of what a modern, big, for-profit international company would have in its contact center. Instead of scheduling deliveries of products or tech support services, Aselo is helping children in crisis.”
Lifeline Childline Zambia and Childline South Africa are the first member helplines to have integrated the new Aselo platform into their operations.
Before Twilio Flex, most child helplines could not manage multiple conversations at the same time. In the contact centers of large corporations, agents are often handling as many as six calls at once, but the helplines working with children and concerned adults were not equipped to multitask in this way.
With Twilio Flex, the Aselo platform brings interactive voice and text responses online, allowing counselors the option to hold multiple conversations over phone, social, or text. This upgrade lets counselors more efficiently manage the queue without sacrificing care quality.
Through Twilio’s programmable and cloud-based features, the Aselo platform provides a single-screen, browser-based interface that enables counselors to help more children at once because they can click between ongoing message streams. According to Tech Matters, this single pane interface created many labor-saving opportunities for helplines. For example, the Aselo platform reduced duplicative data entry by automatically entering common data capture needs in one place, which meant that counselors at Childline Zambia no longer worried about tracking conversations and recording data across multiple systems.
Another labor saving tactic made possible through Twilio Flex is the customizable chatbot, which captures basic demographic information about the child, so volunteer and staff counselors can spend more of their time aiding children in need but still maintain industry best practices to protect children’s data. Childline Zambia also makes use of the customizable chatbot to automatically route a child to a counselor fluent in one of the seven local languages spoken in the south-central African country.
Through Twilio Flex, the Aselo platform also more efficiently manages the data collection that child helplines provide to Child Helpline International. For Patrick Krens, Child Helpline International’s Executive Director, “Aselo will allow [Child Helpline International] as a network to see trends earlier, leading to a more proactive way to advocate and campaign with policymakers and decision makers.”
During COVID, call volume to child helplines went up by 50 percent, but shelter-in-place restrictions dramatically limited how many staff and volunteer counselors could respond to the urgent and life changing cases the helplines received. With Twilio Flex, counselors only need an internet connection and a computer to log onto Aselo and begin changing lives. This flexibility is critical in enabling helplines run at full staff and provide a consistent community experience.
Through Twilio Flex, the Aselo platform will help child helplines soon reach 100 million children annually, helping counselors address the worst cases of mental and physical child abuse and a range of micro crises such as ending persistent school absenteeism and child marriages. Child Helpline International’s core belief is that every child has a voice and that every child has the right to be heard. With the help of Twilio Flex powered Aselo, that belief is now much closer to reality today.