What happens when a child goes through emotional, physical, sexual abuse and household dysfunction? There is a term for this and it is called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Victims are young children and these traumatic experiences can have an adverse impact on their overall health.
Here are the three types of ACEs:
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Credit: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
To help children recover from the consequences of ACEs, Yishun Family Service (YFC) @ Children’s Society has started a pilot groupwork programme called “SPARKLES!*”, an initiative that stems from observations on the ground and feedback from beneficiaries. As the name suggests, SPARKLES! believes that every child will shine when supported and loved. It complements existing casework and counselling YFC provides to child beneficiaries who experience emotional distress due to ACEs.
SPARKLES! started with the premise that beneficiaries should co-create initiatives with the YFC team because the beneficiaries know their needs and circumstances best. Therefore, the YFC team embarked on surveys between December 2022 to March 2023 involving:
- 17 adult beneficiaries who have been through ACEs or are caregivers of children who have been through ACEs
- 9 child beneficiaries who are currently undergoing ACEs
- 22 staff from YFC who engage in both direct and indirect casework and counselling with clients
The findings from these surveys prompted the YFC team to curate a mixed gender groupwork initiative, for children between the ages of seven to eleven. Based on emotional literacy, the objectives of SPARKLES! are:
- Children to be able to label their feelings and rate how intense their feelings are
- Children to be able to suggest ways to cope
- Children to be able to apply coping skills through activities
With the findings, the team identified the right target audience for the groupwork and invited both children and their families for an introductory session to SPARKLES! These children are beneficiaries from YFC’s Kaki Learn, which is a homework support programme. Via the introductory session, the team helped families understand the importance of emotional literacy and addressed queries about SPARKLES!.
From July to August 2023, six sessions were then curated based on the objectives above. Facilitated by a social worker and a counsellor and two observers (a caseworker and programme worker), these sessions comprised tactile and other sensorial activities such as puppet shows and meeting craft-made aliens from space with different emotions, keeping children engaged. The children prepared and served lunch for one another, which made room for opportunities to mingle and feel accepted. Upon completion of the sessions, the team met with the parents/caregivers of each child to discuss the child’s progress, needs and suggest ways for the family to help the child cope better. Caseworkers of these beneficiaries were also updated about their beneficiaries’ needs and progress.
Children naming different words to describe emotions that they have learnt
‘Feeling’ aliens where each alien experiences one emotion and is portrayed with different bodily symptoms that are tactile, and different facial expressions
Children interacting with our ‘feeling alien’ who stays in outer space, where they identified bodily symptoms (e.g. wet palms – this was created with a wet sponge stuck into a satay stick and pasted by the side of the alien’s body). They also listened to a voice recording of this alien who shared why he felt this way
Lights were switched off to resemble the darkness of space while the children were briefed on healthy and unhealthy responses
At the end of these sessions, the team observed that most children are now able to express their feelings and communicate them to an adult. Some families also commented that they noticed how their child can feel a sense of acceptance instead of feeling judged for having been through ACEs.
There will be two upcoming review sessions to be conducted to find out if children have been able to put what they had learnt in SPARKLES! into practice. The sessions would then be evaluated along with the six sessions conducted earlier, to identify if SPARKLES! meets its objectives of equipping children with emotional literacy.
It is crucial for children to have a safe space to communicate their feelings without being judged by their peers or loved ones, and to educate parents and caregivers about the importance of emotional literacy.
*Do note that SPARKLES! is a pilot programme that is still undergoing evaluation and review. More updates will be provided when available.
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