More than half the calls to Kids Help Line went unanswered this year, as demand on the service increased by more than 50 per cent.
The total number of calls to the national children’s counselling and support service increased to 148,776 over the past six months, with 71,533 going unanswered.
Visits to the website also hiked up by 59 per cent over the same period, from 552,103 in the previous six months, to 875,280.
The service is mostly funded through Yourtown – the parent company of Kids Help Line – donors and grants.
General manager of the counselling service Tony Fitzgerald said they had been getting between 700 and 1000 calls a day.
“The type of calls our counsellors are getting are around really complex issues that can’t be handled in five to 10 minutes. Sometimes they go for 40 to 50 minutes,” he told The New Daily.
“We’re getting more calls, particularly around mental health. That’s our biggest issue. From a young person being cornered about their feelings, or it might be an immediate crisis.
“We have to deal with them as they come. It’s difficult to say to someone who is suicidal I’ll get a counsellor for you, and then put them on hold.”
There is no way to make sure those children received the proper support, he said.
“It could be a person who has plucked up the courage to reach out but because we haven’t been able to answer, who knows what might be become of that situation. That really concerns us.”
Yourtown chief executive officer Tracy Adams said the service needs an additional $5 million annually to employ the number of councillors needed to meet demand.
“We want young people to get the very best service they can, particularly with the issues they are contacting us about,” she said.
“Whilst we acknowledge the proactive and brave help-seeking behaviour of children and young people, we are extremely concerned that we are unable to answer every contact for help.
“We, however, encourage children and young people to keep trying to contact us if even if they can’t get through the first time. Keep trying. It is vitally important that they do”.
The cost of operating the service has increased from $5.5 million in 2004 to $11.3 million last year.
Mr Fitzgerald said it was time the government did more to fund the service.
“We’re asking governments across the country to increase their investment,” he said.
“Governments have a huge role and in that context, it’s not that much money. It’s a drop in the ocean to have an impact.”