By Tamsin Scobell

It is hard to believe that two short months ago I arrived at Warm Heart wondering how I could make a difference to this life-changing organisation.  As I write this now, the thought of fitting everything I have done into this blog post is a little overwhelming!!  I set myself a goal to make a lasting impact on the children living in care at Warm Heart and I really hope that I have achieved this.

It is well known that good mental health allows children to develop the resilience to cope and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults. Evidence suggests that rates of mental health disorders amongst children in care are five times higher than for children living in single-family home environments.  I graduated with a degree in Psychology in 2014 and left home with the aim to apply what I learnt in my undergraduate degree to a real-life setting.

I am currently on a 10-month round-the-world trip and last November I worked in a school in South Korea. I shadowed a school counselor and was involved in the discussion of the students who were receiving help for a diagnosed mental illness or suspected mental health problems. This highlighted the importance of excellent communication through detailed reporting.  I was also interested to learn about cultural differences in attitudes towards counselling and psychological intervention.

The work in South Korea was a great experience and I wanted to put what I had learnt into action myself. The opportunity at Warm Heart allowed me to do this and has given me invaluable insights into the mental health of children. I felt it was really important that awareness of mental health at Warm Heart be increased. We carried out intensive interviews and surveys to identify if the children here have any mental health issues. I have also held meetings and am immensely proud to have been involved in taking action to improve the children’s lives based on the findings of my project work.

I arrived during the children’s summer holidays so my first challenge was to organise the Children’s Club activities for a week!  That meant keeping 20 children, bursting with energy, entertained all week!  It was a great way to get to know the children before I started working with them. Amongst many fun activities, I also taught a set of skills and strategies to equip the kids to engage with individual well-being, life and learning. We talked about what made them feel happy when they faced difficult and stressful situations and produced visual reminders which are displayed around the Children’s Home. I based these activities on YoungMind resources, a UK-based charity which promotes emotional resilience of children to improve academic success.


Children’s Camp: Making a volcano out of saltdough, paint, food dye, baking soda and vinegar


Children’s Camp: Decorating biscuits


Children’s Camp: ‘What Makes Us Feel Happy’ workshop display


Children’s Camp: Playing ‘capture the flag’

Once I knew the kids better it was time to start their psychological evaluations. The first challenge was to appropriately adapt the questionnaires and organize the translation. There are 39 children at Warm Heart and each child was assessed using six different questionnaires. The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) was completed by the child, the main carer and the main teacher.  The child also completed a mental health screening questionnaire and an additional qualitative questionnaire was completed by the main carer and teacher. The questionnaires allowed all the interviewees to note any concerns or comments.

The key areas assessed were the emotional difficulties, conduct problems, hyperactivity, friendship network and positive behavioral traits of each child. I learnt to use the computer program provided by SDQ and spent a lot of time entering data to produce reports which collated the data. The individual Mental Health Report generated from all the data included the questionnaire results as well as background information, mental health concerns, evidence of a likely psychological disorder and recommended actions to be taken in a single, easily read document.

I was particularly interested in the impact of mental health on a child’s day-to-day life. I also compared previous data obtained in 2014 to current data to identify the change in SDQ variables over the course of time and to measure the success of any implemented intervention. I organised meetings with various members of staff to talk about the children. The staff know each child impressively well and we were able to talk about the child on a personal level, something which couldn’t be achieved through questionnaires. I think the staff are a huge asset to Warm Heart’s Children’s Home as each child is clearly loved and cared for.

I started with one massive folder which had the full set of questionnaires for each child in separate inserts, clearly labeled and numbered with one very long tick list! I could tick when the questionnaire had been completed, tick when it had been translated and tick when it had been uploaded onto the system. It’s a good job I like ticking!

So now I understand the meaning of Thai time!  During my stay at Warm Heart I have had to learn to go with the flow and let things happen when they happen. As someone who likes to work to a schedule with set times for completion this has been really, really difficult.

I initially thought that I would have trouble getting the teachers and carers to complete the many questionnaires. I wasn’t sure if they would take my project seriously as I had just arrived and was asking for a lot of their time and energy. To my surprise this part of the process ran relatively smoothly.  A few questionnaires were lost along the way but they were eventually found.  The staff considered the questionnaires to be a welcome opportunity to talk about the children and raise any concerns. I can’t thank them enough for jumping on board and taking my project seriously.

It was actually the kids I had trouble with! I was conducting the study during the summer holidays when some of the kids went home so they all turned up in Phrao at different times in drips and drabs. I kept on asking when they would all be back at Warm Heart and the date kept on being pushed back. Without the children’s questionnaires I couldn’t complete the reports so this was very frustrating. The children actually turned up a month later than expected and in the end I had the final child’s questionnaire only a few days before I left! Organising all 240 questionnaires to be completed, uploaded and the corresponding reports generated has been a massive challenge! There were times when I didn’t think it would happen but the full report is finally complete!

(Tamsin Scobell recently completed a two-month stay at Warm Heart)