Ensuring a sustainable counseling program can be a challenge. Our students face a great deal of trauma and stress, not only related to growing up in poverty, but also to environmental factors such as death, family break down, and abuse. A history of abuse is a well recognized risk factor for trafficking, and trauma and stress can impair a person’s ability to take in information and make good decisions. Counseling helps to ensure students have the tools and mindset needed to overcome these obstacles. Historically our counseling program has also come with supportive staff care initiatives, ensuring our staff have the chance to process the secondary trauma that comes from working directly with vulnerable populations.
Steps We’re Taking
In 2019 we hired a licensed social worker to join our team, providing support with emergency cases and ensuring our students are connected to the government services they are entitled to. We also partnered with Give a Hand in Quebec to provide basic counseling training to every member of our staff and to other organizations throughout Chiang Rai. Every member of our staff interacts with children and vulnerable people, making it essential that they have the skills needed to provide counseling and advice. The training also touched on how to build the self-care skills needed to work in this field long-term. We provided training for a total of 33 staff, representing a total of 13 organizations working throughout Chiang Rai. Increasing skills in these areas allow staff members to work more effectively, have more positive impacts on the communities they work with and support.
For our own programs and staff, mentorship is an integral part to our prevention programming. Research shows that stable adult relationships are essential for children to develop resilience. Our staff fosters close relationships with our students, mentoring not only them, but also often their whole families. This is one of the key ways that we work to change mindsets and understanding around trafficking and the value of education, guiding communities toward recognizing the power of education to lift them out of poverty. This often involves providing basic counseling and advice giving. Therefore, this training provided our staff with essential and improved tools to ensure they can support our students better.
The Impact of Counseling Training
One of our staff shared her opinion on the impact of training. “[The training] had a lot of benefits for our work because we are mentors for our kids and for the relationships with the students, for when we give advice to them and talk to them,” says Bee, our Education Program Assistant Manager. “We learned about being counselors. Many organizations have many kids that they take care of. Everyone wanted to learn how to talk to kids, and how to support them. We learned about the three types of listening: the content, what a person feels, and then what they want from the conversation. This is all done through observation. This will help us when we do mentorship because we will understand more what the students are feeling, what they need, more than just the content of what they are talking about. We practiced being a counselor, looking for what people are feeling and what they need.
“There are so many things we can use with our students,” she continues. “For example, listening to the things they say, asking questions to help them understand what they can do to solve the issues. I’ve already used my new skills with our students. I’m still trying to adjust, because these are skills you have to use all the time. But for example, when I ask questions I don’t just ask ‘what happened’ but I look at their eyes, their behavior. With one of our students who has family issues, his mother passed away and his father is an alcoholic, I use normal questions and listen not just to what he says but also how he acts. For example, when he talks about his dad, asking more questions about his dad and looking at how he is acting.
“Generally, when we listen to the kids we listen just for content, because that is important to us. But we [hadn’t] been listening for other feelings. Listening and being a counselor or mentor is about helping people see the good in themselves and relationships help us open up and do that more,” explains Bee.
We are thankful for this opportunity to ensure that our program continues to be sustainable and provide the support needed for our students and community members in the future. For cases that require psychiatrist support or more intensive counseling we are continuing to work with the Chiang Rai hospital, and partners in both the private and public sphere to refer our cases on for help.
We continued to be committed to ensuring our students and families have the support and care that they need in order to prevent child trafficking and thrive.
Article written by Lucy McCray, Monitoring and Evaluation Program Manager