Support network for traumatised children

A new support network has been rolled out to help children affected by traumatic events such as the sudden loss of a loved one, domestic abuse or school bullying.

The initiative aims to equip school counsellors, psychologists and volunteers with trauma-specific skills so they can provide much- needed support to children suffering traumatic stress.

The Stay Prepared - Trauma Network for Children was launched yesterday by KK Women's and Children's Hospital and Temasek Cares, the non-profit philanthropic arm of Temasek Holdings.

As part of the initiative, 31 therapists graduated from an internationally recognised two-year training programme for Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT) yesterday.

One of them was Ms Audrey Rajalingam, who heads the Methodist Welfare Services Residence @ St George's, a girls' hostel for probationers and troubled teenagers.

"Prior to training, we didn't know what questions to ask," said Ms Rajalingam who often sees children who have been exposed to family violence and may be reluctant to talk.

"But with the right questions, the kids are quite willing to talk about the events they experienced."

There are 36 other community- based therapists being trained in TF-CBT under the new support network, for a total of 67 therapists from 30 schools and 14 family service centres.

In addition to the current batch of 67, a further 100 professional therapists are projected to be trained in TF-CBT, which targets children with more severe trauma.

The new initiative builds on its precursor, Temasek Cares' Kids In Tough Situations (Kits) programme, which was piloted in April 2014. The new network is a nationwide expansion of the Kits programme, which first began the TF-CBT training.

"In a crisis, children are often the most vulnerable," said Mr Richard Magnus, chairman of Temasek Cares.

"In South Korea, during the Sewol ferry disaster, I saw first-hand that they were not ready to deal with the children who were affected by the deaths of their friends.

"As a result of that, more than two years later, they are still suffering from that trauma. We need to have early intervention, immediately following a traumatic event."

Mr Magnus added that the network was also an effort to prepare caregivers for unpredictable events like the 2015 Sabah earthquake.

The network aims to train more than 680 caregivers in trauma first aid, including social workers, community volunteers and 500 school counsellors from the Ministry of Education. Eventually, it aims to train all school counsellors.

These first responders will form the basis of early intervention for traumatised children.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2016, with the headline 'Support network for traumatised children'. Print Edition | Subscribe