A CALL to avert crisis
By Buffy Lincoln
Australia’s Salvo Care Line—a Salvation Army ministry headquartered in Sydney, with a satellite campus in Brisbane—recently celebrated 30 years of responding to various needs of the country’s people. Developed by Alan Staines, the ministry received its first phone call in 1982 before officially launching in 1983.
Operating non-stop, the free service receives over 60,000 calls a year, equivalent to about 160 calls a day. Its directors continually seek ways to expand its services to meet growing demands. Currently, 23 staff members and 80 trained volunteers provide in excess of 24,000 hours of service each year.
Staines created the telephone counseling center to assist people in crisis or in need of support, and for those just wanting someone to listen. Originally established as a free outreach for the lonely, confused and destitute, the center has received recognition as a premier suicide prevention hotline.
As a layman, Staines began ministry for The Salvation Army on the streets of Sydney’s Kings Cross. He did not hold a “9 to 5” job but responded to the needs of homeless individuals into the early morning hours. As he met and talked with person after person, he realized a valuable truth: Kings Cross residents had no reservations about discussing their problems with someone from The Salvation Army. The Army was trusted.
“Crises and problems don’t keep office hours,” Staines said. This understanding made his long hours not only more tolerable, but also more enjoyable. He was connecting and helping to change lives.
However, Staines knew that even his long hours would never be enough. People needed a way to access help all day every day, and he began to dream of a telephone format that would be accessible—“a Christian counseling practice established on the core principle that all people have been created in the image of God and have intrinsic worth.”
Staines’s dream began to take shape in 1982 when The Salvation Army Sydney Corps, which he attended, celebrated its 100th anniversary. The church agreed to establishing a 24-hour phone counseling service as a part of its centenary project. Staines moved ahead, developing a training program for volunteers to work as phone counselors. Eight months later, the phone lines opened and the Salvo Care Line was officially in operation. In March 1984, the Army appointed Alan and Lois Staines as envoys to oversee the work full-time.
The Salvo Care Line evolved into a widely recognized and reputable suicide counseling site, both for those contemplating suicide and for those left behind after the suicide of a loved one.
In 1991, Staines founded Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA) and for 18 years served on the SPA board as national secretary. He helped launch the “Hope for Life Suicide Prevention and Bereavement Support” program in 2006, which provides information, resources and training for those who support people dealing with suicide. The Salvo Care Line ties in with this program by offering counseling support. The Care Line is funded by The Salvation Army’s annual Red Shield Appeal fundraising campaign.
Staines coordinated the inaugural Australian Postvention Conference in 2007 and subsequent conferences in 2009 and 2012 for those bereaved by suicide. He authored the Australian Lifekeeper Memory Quilt Initiative, which gives families a tangible and therapeutic way to remember their loved ones. The theory—researched and evaluated by Dr. Kath Peters, University of New South Wales, in 2007—has been shown to have healing capabilities for those left after a suicide, and the quilt project has expanded to include almost every state in Australia. In 2013, Staines formed Postvention Australia, a National Association for the Bereaved by Suicide. The need for this society was the focus at the postvention conferences he held. He is a board member of Postvention Australia and serves as national secretary of the association.
In October, Staines represented The Salvation Army at the International Association of Suicide Prevention Congress in Oslo, Norway. He presented “An Evaluation of Participants’ Perspectives of the Lifekeeper Memory Quilt Project” to the 830 worldwide delegates.
In a segment of the congress, Staines received the International Association for Suicide Prevention 2013 Norman Farberow Award “In recognition of outstanding contributions in the field of bereavement and survivors of suicide loss.”
“I give thanks to God for the opportunity that has been mine through my Salvation Army service to provide holistic services for the bereaved by suicide throughout Australia,” Staines said.
A citation for the award was published in the International Suicide Prevention magazine, “CRISIS.” He has also received the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) and The Salvation Army’s Order of the Founder award.
Staines seeks to see a strong network providing holistic, physical, emotional and spiritual support to enhance the health and well-being of every person bereaved by suicide. He continues to serve as a board member of The Salvation Army’s Hope for Life national programs.
“I am inspired by our founder, General Booth’s, words when he said, ‘Let us haste to the rescue, who in this company will lend a hand to take up the challenge?’ This is a call for action and commitment,” Staines said. “This work provides a great opportunity for ministry for Salvationists worldwide at this significant time in our history. You and I can make a difference to troubled lives, those at risk and the bereaved by suicide as we try to reclaim an area of work in which we once led the world.”
He referenced Luke 4:18: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me—he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted…to set at liberty them that are bruised.
“Suicide prevention is everybody’s business,” Staines said. “Together, led by the Spirit, we can make a difference, save lives and be Kingdom Builders.”
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