How it Works
A simple call can make all the difference for an infant, child, youth or family looking for help. Our team is ready to listen and we have the expertise to help guide people in the right direction. We know what services and programs exist and, based on each situation, we can directly connect people to the services and programs they need. No concern is too big or too small. We are here to facilitate a path forward.Explore the FAQ for more details
Calling our phone line
It starts with a call. Our service is completely free and confidential. Our friendly, experienced staff are available Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. EST and Saturday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. EST.
Assessing needs and risks
We’ll listen and ask the child, youth or parent/caregiver some questions to help us better understand their specific needs. Based on their situation, we can determine the options available to help them.
We are not an emergency helpline, but if we receive a call from someone in urgent crisis, we will help redirect them to the appropriate crisis line or emergency service.
Guiding callers through suitable options
We have up-to-date knowledge of the resources, services and programs to help infant, children, youth and families in Toronto. Together, we’ll review available local options based on the child, youth or caregiver’s needs. We can offer immediate, free counselling to them through Whats Up Walk In and/or start the process to connect them to longer term support.
Intake for immediate, free counselling
Booking an appointment takes about 10 minutes and requires the consent of the child and their legal guardian(s). We’ll ask some additional questions and, while the caller momentarily waits, we’ll do our best to secure an appointment for the same day or the following day.
Initial intake for longer-term services
The intake process to connect children, youth and their families to supports offered by local community based organizations takes about 25 minutes. Accessing the services will also require the consent of the child and their legal guardian(s). If callers don’t have time right away, they can always call back or we can schedule a follow-up call.
Sharing appointment details
Callers will be given the time and name of the organization or counsellor who will be calling them for their counselling session. At the scheduled time, they’ll call — likely from a private number. They’ll try a few times if they don’t reach the child, youth or family on the first try.
Connecting with an organization
Once a child’s general intake information is complete, we’ll share it with the selected organization. They will call the family back within 5 business days to confirm they have the correct details.
Talking to the counsellor
The counselling session will last about 45-60 minutes. The counsellor will already have some of the details the child, youth or family shared with us. If a child, youth or their family have any issues getting connected to the counsellor, they can call back and we will help solve the issue.
Complete service intake
Within 10 business days, the organization will contact the child, youth or family to complete any additional intake requirements they need to sign them up with the service or program they need to access.
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Call us to discuss resources, tell your clients to call us or make a referral.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you provide services in different languages?
Help Ahead staff speak English and there is an option when you call to press 2 in the greeting message to speak with someone in French from Centre Francophone. At this time, we do not have the ability to provide services in languages. Please ask a family member, friend or other person you trust who can speak English to help you with the process.
Other language requests can be accommodated in What’s Up Walk-In counselling sessions if there is a language specific counsellor available. This usually means making a counselling session may not be immediately available and booking an appointment may likely be necessary. Some of the clinics can arrange for interpretation services.
For ongoing services, some of the clinics can arrange for interpretation services. During the initial intake process, our Help Ahead staff would identify language needs and consult with agencies before sending the referral to see if the language required can be accommodated.
Is your service free?
Yes! Calling Help Ahead and speaking with a member of our team is always completely free. We are funded by the Government of Ontario.
What’s Up Walk-In counselling sessions, accessed by calling us, are also available, free of charge.
For ongoing services, we will explore the options through our partnered community mental health agencies available to you at no cost. Should you be interested in fee-for-service programs or treatments, we can share relevant options for those as well.
What kind of information do you provide?
We provide information about:
- Mental health services in your neighbourhood or in other parts of the city
- Crisis lines
- Self-help groups
- Distress centres
- Family services
- Information and referral to other services
Who can call Help Ahead?
Anyone under the age of 18 looking for mental health services or anyone who wants to support someone under the age of 18 can call 1-866-585-6486. This includes young people, a custodial parent or guardian who wants to be connected to a community-based mental health service serving infants, children, youth and families.
Healthcare and education professionals and service providers can also call us to learn about services in the community. However, we cannot proceed with a referral without speaking to or getting consent from a custodial parent, guardian or youth 12yrs and over.
What are the parameters around consent to treatment?
We must have consent from both legal guardians for children under 12yrs of age.
We must get consent from anyone participating in treatment that is over 12yrs of age.
If a child or youth over the age of 12 does not want to access counselling or treatment, we can help connect families to local parent/caregiver groups and programs.
We cannot accept 3rd party referrals.
What ages do you serve?
We can connect individuals aged 0-29yrs, living in the Greater Toronto Area to What’s Up Walk-In sessions.
Access to ongoing mental health and counselling services, is provided to children and youth 0-18yrs and their families living in Toronto.
Who will the What’s Up Walk-In counselling session be with?
What’s Up Walk-In sessions are generally provided by a registered psychotherapist or registered social worker.
What’s Up Walk-In sessions are not with a psychologist or psychiatrist. Psychologist and psychiatrist require a doctor referral and are generally sought after to provide assessment and possibly medication management.
What’s the difference between What’s Up Walk-In counselling and ongoing support?
What’s Up Walk-In is meant to be a single session and provide support in the moment. It can be accessed as needed, but it is NOT a connection to a regular, consistent counsellor. Repeat callers are not guaranteed that they would speak to the same counsellor if they were to call again.
When referred for ongoing support individuals and/or families are assigned to one counsellor who will do the work with them on an ongoing basis until the service has ended.
Do you offer family and relationship counselling with What’s Up Walk-In?
What’s Up Walk-In is not ideal to support family and relationship counselling due to virtual limitations – it is intended for individual support.
What’s Up Walk-In can support individuals 0-29 years of age for direct support relating to themselves, or can support a parent of anyone 0-29 years if the reason for the call relates to their child.
Family support can be accessed through referral for ongoing support to one of our partner agencies.
Is this service only available to people living in Toronto?
Help Ahead can refer children, youth and families to our partner agencies in Toronto for ongoing support, but we can provide resources in the GTA for people to contact on their own if they are calling from outside Toronto.
For What’s Up Walk-In we can support the GTA with a limited capacity as some clinics will only accept callers residing within Toronto.
After I call you, how long do I need to wait before I can get help?
The mental health worker will send your referral information to the appropriate agency the same day you call us. You can expect to hear from the referring agency within five (5) business days to arrange a time to complete a more thorough assessment.
If you are calling about a counselling session through the What’s Up Walk-In Clinic you can expect to connect with a counsellor the same day.