$1.5m project to train child trauma therapists

Therapists at a simulated group supervision session led by Ms Lynn Soh (right), a senior psychologist at KKH. Ms Soh is also assistant project head for the Temasek Cares Kids programme.
PHOTO: $1.5m project to train child trauma therapists

SINGAPORE - A $1.5 million, three-year project launched yesterday will see 60 therapists trained to help children cope with traumatic situations.

Called Temasek Cares Kids in Tough Situations (Kits), the programme is a collaboration between non-profit organisation Temasek Cares and KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH).

Temasek Cares chairman Richard Magnus said adults "have a certain amount of resilience" in disaster situations.

"But in children, the resilience threshold is low because of their emotions and... vulnerability."

This is why it is important, he explained, to have a pool of counsellors trained in dealing with such children.

These 60 therapists, who will be part of the pilot project, include school counsellors and social workers from community organisations such as family service centres (FSCs).

They will be able to help an estimated 1,920 children and their caregivers over the three years.

To raise awareness of childhood trauma, efforts will also be made to reach out to about 7,000 people - including parents and teachers - through talks and other events.

It is the first programme under Temasek Cares' Stay Prepared initiative, which aims to help Singaporeans build up community resources to better deal with emergencies. These include environmental disasters or health-related crises like the Sars epidemic.

Funding for the Stay Prepared initiative comes from the $40 million Temasek Emergency Preparedness Fund, which was launched last month.

The therapists under Temasek Care Kits are being trained in an approach used widely in the United States.

Trainers from the US were flown in for a four-day course to teach these techniques, after which the therapists will come under the supervision of KKH.

The hospital deals with the most severe cases of child trauma, said project head Lim Xin Yi, who is a clinical psychologist there.

"There's no system of early identification of children with such difficulties," she said, adding that this problem could make matters worse for victims.

The new programme aims to nip this in the bud by identifying and treating children at the community level.

Trauma can result from direct abuse to the child, but also from witnessing episodes of violence between family members.

Ms Natalie Lim, a senior social worker with AMKFSC Community Services, said she sees many cases of children being traumatised because of violence in their families.

"They tend to act out - by misbehaving or playing truant. Some also withdraw and isolate themselves," she said.

Having a structured training programme like the one offered by Temasek Cares Kits is very useful, she added.

"Trauma intervention needs to be pretty comprehensive."

linettel@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 17 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.