International Meeting of "The Smile of the Child" Greece and Bris Sweden
Athens, 7 September 2023
International Meeting of "The Smile of the Child" Greece and Bris Sweden on “Responding to children in crisis”
With the support of the Embassy of Sweden in Greece
"The Smile of the Child" Greece and Bris Sweden, as members of Child Helpline International and with the support of the Embassy of Sweden in Greece, co-organized a two-day international event on the key issue of “Responding to children in crisis”, the crucial role of child helplines and how we as actors can best support children and young people in times of crisis and how these services can be improved and upgraded.
In a crowded room, more than 70 participants in person and 500 online, representing 40 countries, met on Wednesday, 6 September at the Panhellenic Coordinating Operational Center for Direct Social and Medical Intervention "ANDREAS YANNOPOULOS" in Aghia Paraskevi, Athens, Greece, from Europe, America and Africa. More specifically, 26 of the 41 European member countries of Child Helpline International participated and were represented, including Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Denmark, Czechia, Finland, Poland, etc. as well as one non-European member country, Zambia. The meeting was also attended by representatives from other organizations, representing countries including Belgium, Estonia, Canada, USA, South Africa and Türkiye.
Watch the meeting here: https://www.youtube.com/live/zAQu8-1Jtt4?si=_DVtgB5FCDeAYump
During the meeting, presentations and discussions were held under the coordination of Piji Protopsaltis, Coordinator of International Cooperation of "The Smile of the Child", followed by an interesting video with quotes from children's calls to helplines where they talk about various crises they are facing.
Watch the video here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1sFBTU4MrjjLKSkjDwIQ9oUcPfu_fgKJM/view
The first part of the meeting had a hybrid character, with both onsite and online participation, while the subsequent parts of the program were implemented only with onsite participation. Mr. Costas Yannopoulos, President of the Board of "The Smile of the Child", addressed the participants and said: "Today we are extremely happy because we are hosting an important meeting that we co-organized with Bris, both members of Child Helpline International, with the valuable support of the Embassy of Sweden in Greece. From the very first moment and for 28 years, ''The Smile'' has been at the forefront of crisis response in Greece and beyond. With our specialized team, we support children and families wherever there is a need. Unfortunately, as the years go by, the crises we are called upon to deal with increase, earthquakes, pandemics and of course unprecedented natural disasters due to climate change.
Children are of course affected by these crises, but what we often overlook is the long-term impact they have on their lives and their paths. Today it is precisely these concerns that are shared by representatives of stakeholders from 40 countries, not only from Europe but internationally. Our aim is to see how we can be even more effective in our response and support every child in crisis. I would really like to express our satisfaction with the excellent cooperation we have with Bris, with Swedish institutions such as the Municipality of Stockholm, and of course with the Swedish Embassy in Greece with which our ties are long-standing.
In closing, I wish a happy birthday to CHI, of which ''The Smile'' has been a member since the creation of the Network 20 years ago. We are proud to be part of this Network, which is one of the largest and most effective in the world. I am sure that this 2-day meeting in Athens, as well as others in the past that have been the occasion for the creation of the European Help and Support Lines 116111 and 116000, will empower all those involved and will be the start of even more actions and services for children, with the constant and basic request that they have a voice and that it is heard!"
The baton was passed on from Mr. Yannopoulos to Magnus Jägerskog, Secretary General of Bris, who said: "Responding and supporting children in crisis is a responsibility that we have as adults and together we can do more to strengthen support to children. This conference is therefore of great importance so that we can exchange knowledge and experiences, as well as create new partnerships for the possibility of sustainable funding for child helplines and the support we provide to children worldwide". HE Johan Borgstam, Ambassador of Sweden, in turn mentioned the close cooperation between the institutions and organizations with the Embassy of Sweden and among others said "Dear organizers, a big Swedish-Greek “Sygharitiria” already now, it’s quite an amazing number of participants and actors you managed to gather here today. I would like to address Mr. Costas Yannopoulos and say that the impact that “The Smile of the Child” has had on Greek society is very well known, and not just in Greece, and it has also been proven by statistics, the impact is there, it is tangible, it is literally saving lives of children, and I want to assure you that the collaboration and the support of the Embassy of Sweden, already there, will endure, and we hope to make it even stronger, to reinforce it even more".
Camilla Waltersson Grönvall, Minister of Social Services of Sweden participated online and said “All children should be given a genuine chance to thrive in life and the coming years the Government, among other important things, will prioritize the work to improve the mental health of children and young people, to protect children from being exposed to all forms of violence. Therefore, the Government has decided a new permanent funding of 1.7 million euro yearly from 2023 for Bris National Helpline for Children and 1.7 million euro extra to Children Rights Organizations”, while Benjamin Dalle, Flemish Minister of Brussels, Media, Youth and Poverty Reduction, gave an online welcome address, and referring to Belgium's actions after the war in Ukraine, said "We should join forces and expertize, to ensure that children can express their voice in every way and on all platforms, in every country". A video with quotes of children of children and the kind of support they have received from Helplines was then presented.
Watch the video here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1tExvRCcWSIlRaLgETlPCVEuZm_tGXexT/view?usp=drive_link
Chris Newlin, Executive Director, National Child Advocacy Center, USA through a video message spoke about "Critical Incident First Aid" stating that the most important factor in minimizing the impact of a critical incident is the support the staff member receives from you as leader and the support provided by the staff member’s peers, and Anna Sarkadi, MD and Professor of Social Medicine at the Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences at Uppsala University, Sweden, discussed ‘‘Teaching Recovery Techniques: evolution of a group-based intervention for PTSD symptoms in refugee youth during the refugee, pandemic-, and Ukrainian war crises in Sweden.”
This was followed by two short addresses, one online by Pablo Espiniella, Senior Special Assistant/Chief of Staff, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, UN, who noted “The child helplines are an essential part of strong national protection systems and they should not forget their role in ensuring a safe, protective and empowering environment for all children independently of the status including those children on the move escaping from all current multifaceted and complex crises”, and another by Niki Kouka, student-volunteer of the YouSmile Student Volunteer Network of “The Smile”, who pointed out that “Many of us may say why it is important to call a helpline like the National Helpline for Children SOS 1056. A conversation with a psychologist or a social worker is always under professional terms. You can talk with then for everything. They just want to help by providing you with the correct piece of advice and on emergency occasions how to intercede with the ensurance of child mental health".
The Ukrainian child helpline La Strada then gave a presentation by video on their response to the war in Ukraine and its effect on children.
The ensuing discussion between Elisabeth Dahlin, Ombudswoman for Children Sweden, Gianluca Rocco, Chief of Mission and Regional Response Coordinator of IOM and Maria Clara Martin, UNHCR Representative in Greece, focused on children on the move, as well as how Sweden can improve implementation of the rights of the child for those children who have been able come all the way to Sweden, and highlighted that we must listen to children so that we can provide them with the precise help and support they need.
The meeting continued with a roundtable discussion on "Responding to children in crisis" moderated by Ronja Ulvfot, Regional Manager Europe for Child Helpline International, on how all the different actors and organizations supporting children have so far responded to children in crises and how there can be improvements in the way they collaborate to strengthen that response and to make it as complete and effective as possible.
The conversation between Elisabeth Dahlin, Ombudswoman for Children Sweden, Dr. Ioanna Noula, Visiting Fellow, Media and Communications, London School of Economics and Political Science and Senior Manager- Research, The Internet Commission, UK, Stefanos Alevizos, Psychologist, Scientific Coordinator of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, "The Smile of the Child" and Florence C. Nkhuwa, CEO, Lifeline/ChildLine Zambia focused on both the great importance of children's voices being heard and taken into account by professionals who make decisions for them, as well as the importance of shifting the very strong focus of child protection to both digital and real life as these are two interconnected concepts in which we need to move.
The presentations were followed by questions and comments from the participants. The first day of the meeting was concluded with the meeting of the European member helplines of Child Helpline International, with two thematic workshops on "Supporting Children in Crisis" and "Situation in Ukraine and the response". The second day of the meeting, Thursday, 7 September will be of a purely educational nature as two more thematic workshops will be held by Child Helpline International on "Mental Health and other challenges" and "Wellbeing of the Helpline staff" focusing on the existing response of Helplines across Europe and the results of this response. The thematic workshops presented good practices from the helplines of Denmark, Germany, Poland, Hungary etc. It was particularly highlighted that during crises, Child Helplines note a significant increase in contacts with children.
We would like to thank the Ministry of Tourism for providing informational material.
Information about Bris and Child Helpline International:
Bris, Children’s Rights in Society, is one of Sweden’s leading children’s rights organizations and fights for a better society for children every day. Bris was founded in 1971 and contributed to Sweden becoming the first country in the world to ban all forms of physical punishment of children. Bris listens to and supports children and youth and strengthens their rights in society. Bris operates the national child helpline and offers children and youth under 18 safe, anonymous and free professional support through email, chat and phone – as well as in-person support. Child Helpline International is the international network of child helplines, based in Amsterdam with 155 members in 133 countries and territories around the world, which aims to support the creation and strengthening of national toll-free child helplines worldwide and the protection of children’s rights.
If we all unite we will succeed, as the young founder of "The Smile", Andreas, very aptly said, only in this way will we be able to strengthen the support and respond effectively to the risks that threaten children in times of crisis.
Photo material from the meeting: https://photos.app.goo.gl/5KbmCq3nHArizBhY7
"The Smile of the Child"