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Training and supervision of staff and volunteers

Last edited: September 14, 2012

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Training and supervision of workers responding to help-line calls is essential to ensure quality services are provided to women and girls in line with core shelter principles.

Initial training for all helpline staff and volunteers (which may involve several days) and periodic refresher training should be provided by a skilled trainer with expertise in the specific forms of violence to be addressed by the helpline.

Topics to be covered should include:

  • Relevant and up-to-date information about forms of violence in the targeted community/ communities, causes and consequences.
  • Resources available to women and girls, across sectors.
  • How to respond effectively to helpline calls:
    • Understanding the differences between face-to-face counseling and telephone counseling, and the ability to apply counseling skills specific to telephone, online or SMS settings.
    • Advantages and limitations of non face-to-face counseling (i.e. it may be harder to build trust on the telephone), and ways to deal with these unique aspects of the counseling environment.
    • Counseling skills (e.g. greeting, empathizing, accepting, active listening, use of silence, questioning and probing, focusing, affirming, reflecting and correcting misperceptions).

It is important to identify and manage the potential stress and risk of vicarious trauma related to taking repeated and frequent calls on busy help-lines. Strategies to minimize the effects of such stress include providing opportunities for individual and group support to helpline staff/ volunteers, considering shorter shifts and improving supports available to staff during shifts.

Training to develop skills should involve participatory methodologies which:

  • Clarify learning objectives
  • Describe the intent, desired effects and process of applying the specific skill
  • Provide opportunity for practice (e.g. role plays)
  • Provide feedback on progress in developing specific skills (Stratten and Ainslie, 2003)


Case Study: Providing Telephone Counseling to Domestic Violence Survivors (Viet Nam)

The Centre for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender–Family–Women and Adolescents (CSAGA) established and maintains the only national hotline for domestic violence survivors in Viet Nam. The initiative began as a telephone counselling line in the late 1990’s, connected with the provincial government’s information line (108), in response to the demand by callers for relationship advice and emotional support. Within a few years of its establishment, the hotline evolved into a national organization dedicated to supporting survivors of domestic violence.

It has sustained its operations and improved its support to survivors through key actions such as:

  • Utilizing new technology available (telecommunications).
  • Understanding the needs of women seeking support.
  • Popularizing the hotline in all mass communication channels.
  • Seeking and collecting information on experiences and materials from other countries, and adapting them to local cultures and conditions to inform local practices.
  • Identifying advocacy opportunities alongside political changes.
  • Prioritizing sustainability by launching a fundraising campaign to maintain the hotline and seeking domestic sources of support. CSAGA has also approached domestic businesses and inviting them to events related to domestic violence and gender equality in order to raise their awareness of the problem and encourage them to contribute funding.
  • Documenting counselling cases and practices, which contribute toward improving overall supporting to survivors.
  • Raising government awareness of the capacity and the flexibility of NGOs, which helps to improve cooperation between relevant civil society organizations and government agencies.

See the full Case Study.

Source: Van Ahn Nguyen for Centre for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender – Family – Women and Adolescents. 2011.



Manual for Work on SOS Hotline for (Potential) Victims of Human Trafficking: NGO ASTRA Experience (Vukasovic, et al, Belgrade: ASTRA – Anti Trafficking Action, 2010). This tool provides extensive guidance on how to manage and operate an SOS Hotline for potential victims of trafficking. Information is provided regarding indicators of trafficking, ethical and safety recommendations for managing risks, and examples of SOS telephone conversations. Available in English.

Practical Guide to Telephone Based Counseling (The International Women’s Human Rights Center “La Strada”, 2008) provides guidance on the use of telephone based counseling to prevent human trafficking. This guide discusses objectives, guiding principles, practices and human resource needs. Available in English.

Setting up a Hotline (Stratten & Ainslie, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health/Center for Communication Programs, 2003). This resource provides detailed guidance on various aspects of setting up a hotline, informed by global experience. Detailed guidance is provided regarding planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating hotlines, as well as advocacy, including how to use the media, creating message and images to promote the hotline, considering demand and capacity, quality control, and relevant issues. Practical tools are also provided, including forms, a case study, and a training module on telephone counseling skills. Available in English.

The Take Back the Tech! Campaign (2009) calls for systematic use of technology in ending violence against women. Its website in Spanish, French and English, includes a comprehensive campaign kit and an entire section devoted to being safe when using technology. Available in English, French and Spanish.