Care – February 19 2018

Healing through counselling

Joanna has been a social worker at SOS Children’s Village Kitwe, northern Zambia, for four years. Her main tasks include helping children speak about the traumatic experiences and counselling SOS mothers to support them as caregivers. In this interview, Joanna talks about her job and why she believes it is an important one.

Why did you decide to work for SOS Children’s Villages?

I joined because I have a passion to work with children and women. SOS Children’s Villages was the best fit for me. It offered what I was looking for. I love children, and I love being with them. It is what I love to do.

Where do the children in SOS families come from?

The children we receive are referred to us by the government’s social welfare department or by the police. We then evaluate their cases through the child admission committee made up of six people. We gauge the pros and cons of admitting such a child into an SOS family. We check if it is possible for the child to remain with their biological family. If not, we get all the documents necessary, and then we admit the child to an SOS family.

Upon arrival, the child goes for a medical check-up and is given time to settle into the family house to establish a bond with the SOS mother.

How do children generally react when they first come to SOS Children’s Villages?

When they first arrive, the children are upset and confused. However, with time they begin to settle in.

How do you carry out the counselling sessions?

I go to the family house and ask the child to show his or her toys to me. If the child has suffered a traumatic experience, I ask them to draw something of their choice. From the drawing, I am able to pick out and interpret concerning issues.

Traumatised children have certain mannerisms: They cannot sleep, they scream at night, they isolate themselves from others, and wet their beds at a mature age. Some children cannot express themselves, and they point at what they want instead of speaking out loud, or they use head gestures. I tell the SOS mother to be patient and that it will take time for the child to come out of his or her shell. Though each case is different, it takes about three months before a child can have enough trust to talk to me. I find boys continue to wet the bed longer than girls, but they often open up more easily than girls. When a case becomes difficult, I involve the social welfare department or partners with different expertise.

The majority of children in SOS families only need counselling to settle in. They are orphaned or from a parent who is not able to fend for them, and we also have eight children who have been abandoned. We have a child that was separated from her mother when she was sent to prison. After serving 12 years, the mother was able to find her child with us. I recently introduced them to each other and they have been bonding every time the mother comes to visit.

How does the SOS mother find time to focus on a child who has just joined the family, considering she has other children to take care of?

A household with a new child needs extra attention because the new child needs more time with the SOS mother. She focuses on the newly arrived, often traumatised, child whilst the SOS aunt [assistant caregiver] helps with the other children. After the child has settled in well, the aunt will be relieved from full-time duty. The background of the child and their physical, mental and emotional condition determines how long an aunt will remain in a family.

How do you help the SOS mothers?

SOS mothers are always excited when they are first employed. They put on a brave face that all is well. I am trained to see beyond the physical, and I am observant. I can tell when a mother has issues the minute I enter her house.

What do you like most about your job?

It is the most fulfilling job. When I find children who have used this opportunity – of being in an SOS family – as a springboard and have become successful in life, it makes me happy. Looking at their background and seeing what they have had to overcome, confirms to me that my work is worthwhile.

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