Service under pressure . . . ChatBus founder and chief executive Averil Pierce (centre) is flanked by counsellors Jacqui Tangney (left) and Kelly Clark in one of the buses it operates in Dunedin schools. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

Facing huge and increasing demand from local schools and children, Dunedin’s ChatBus mobile counselling service has launched an urgent fundraising campaign.

ChatBus founder Averil Pierce said the organisation, which worked with more than 550 children at 14 primary and intermediate schools around Dunedin, was getting constant requests to increase its coverage.

“Three of our schools are asking us to increase from one to two days per week, and we have several new schools who want to come on board,” Mrs Pierce said.

However, the three buses and four counsellors – two of whom worked part-time – were at full capacity.

“To increase our service any further, we simply have to have more money,” she said.

ChatBus did not receive government funding, and the big funders were under increasing pressure due to high demand from the social sector and low interest returns.

This month, ChatBus is launching its “1000 Stars” fundraising campaign, searching for 1000 benefactors to pledge $20 per month to support the service.

“It is vital for us to find sources of ongoing operational funding, so we are hoping that the 1000 Stars programme will help with that,” Mrs Pierce said.

The ChatBus counsellors were encountering increasing levels of anxiety among children, which was in large part a result of exposure to major news events and other worrying content online, she said.

Statistics from last year showed the top five issues for children were family, friends, anger, grief and bullying.

“I believe that anxiety will be in the top three when we do this year’s statistics,” Mrs Pierce said.

Counsellor Jacqui Tangney said anxiety tended to stem from multi-layers of issues that children did not have the capacity to deal with.

“A lot of the children I talk with, of primary school age, have all manner of devices in their bedrooms and unrestricted access to the internet,” she said.

“And this means they are getting a daily diet of the terrible things that are going on around the world.”

Mrs Pierce said it seemed that many parents were unaware of the impact this information and games could be having on their children’s minds.

Counsellor Kelly Clark said busy parents and busy classrooms meant there was less time for children to interact one-on-one with adults and discuss the things that may be worrying them.

“So, in that context, ChatBus offers half an hour of total engagement with a person who is very present, and that is the greatest aspect of what we do,” Mrs Clark said.

“Socialisation is so important for children, and it is something that parents and schools are working on every day.”

She said it was important to remember that many parents were doing “a brilliant job” with their children.

The ChatBus 1000 Stars programme will be launched on October 21, at 10am, in the Meridian mall, including performances by children.

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