For the past 36 years, Tinkle Friend has made itself available to primary school students who need a listening ear. Last year, staff from Tinkle Friend worked with our Research Unit to study the role the service played during the year, capturing their findings in Tinkle Friend: Year in Review 2020.
The document provides a snapshot of who was using Tinkle Friend and highlights the trends observed during the year, underscoring children’s experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. These findings will be shared with the relevant stakeholders to allow them to gain a better understanding of Tinkle Friend’s work.
Overall, Tinkle Friend served 948 more children in 2020 than in 2019. One of the main contributing factors was schools’ active publicity of the service. We also observed a drop in the number of helpline calls and an increase in online chats. This may have partly been due to disruptions to the operation of the helpline during the Circuit Breaker period, and may also reflect children’s preference for chatting online.
Across helpline calls and online chats, the reasons children reached out to us ranged from a desire for casual chit-chat to a need for support on school-related issues, social relationships, mental health concerns, and bullying.
Since February 2020, when COVID-19 was first detected in Singapore, we also examined the impact of the pandemic and subsequent safe distancing measures on children’s access to social support. A qualitative analysis of chats from April to July 2020 surfaced some of the difficulties children experienced, including negative parent-child interactions due to higher parental stress, an inability to meet with friends, and difficulty in contacting their out-of-home social support figures, including teachers and school counsellors. Many children also had concerns about issues that were not related to COVID-19, such as high academic expectations and bullying.
These findings highlight the importance of making mental health support accessible at all times and promoting help-seeking behaviour among children who are in distress, regardless of whether there are extraordinary stressors like a pandemic.
In August 2020, we also launched a user satisfaction survey to find out if child users felt supported after engaging in online chats with Tinkle Friend. The survey revealed that 83% were satisfied with the Tinkle Friend service, and 79.2% felt heard and understood while chatting with Tinkle Friend. Some children said that they learnt to think more positively and to express their emotions, and were able to see things from different perspectives.
Findings from our Year in Review document highlight the crucial role that Tinkle Friend plays in supporting child users. They also highlight the need to let children’s voices guide our work and the need to promote mental health support among children, especially those who experience difficulties in accessing support from their existing social networks.
The full report can be accessed here.