By Tamsin Scobell

At times the language barrier made my project work more difficult. I couldn’t just confirm meetings myself or type out an email asking a quick question because I always needed a translator. I also needed a translator for every meeting which wasn’t always easy to arrange. During meetings, not speaking Thai slowed the whole process but between lots of smiles, nods and signing, there was nothing that we couldn’t communicate. Learning to be patient and working through language barriers is all part of the experience, right?

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Collecting data from the housemothers and teacher

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Collecting data from the children

By far the most important part of the report was the Actions section, as there was no point doing all the work to understand a child and their needs and not acting on it. The actions were realistic steps which could be taken to solve (or begin to solve) the concern which had been raised about the child. Hands down, the most rewarding part of my time at Warm Heart has been beginning to see how this can really help the children.

Every time I completed a new batch of profiles I held weekly meetings and follow-up meetings to discuss what we were going to do about the results. One child has been put on different medication while another is being closely monitored to rule out an eating disorder. One of the older boys is changing from a course which didn’t motivate him to a course which he will hopefully love to study. There is even talk of him going on an internship in America!

As a result of the questionnaire diagnosis prediction, I have taken three children to RICD (Rajanagarindra Institute of Child Development) in Chiang Mai to be officially assessed for mental health problems. This was a great experience as I sat through the consultation and watched the different psychological models put into action.

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Warm Heart boys at RICD

The questionnaire highlighted that some children have no influential adult in their lives, so we have contacted individuals, specific to the child’s needs, to have regular meetings and motivate them. I am so pleased a new Thai social worker and new mentors are being employed to inspire and work with specific children. In other cases, we have contacted a family member to arrange regular visits from uncles or cousins to the home when parents are unable or unsuitable to come and visit.

As part of the report I also analysed the children’s questionnaire results as a whole. I looked for trends in the data which indicated the need for intervention on a group level. Classes on self-perception and a healthy relationship with food would be beneficial to a number of the children at Warm Heart, especially the older girls. We also discussed that a number of steps will be taken to improve self-perception among the children, who will then be reassessed to measure the success of the intervention.

Social media is really popular among the older children, so an idea was to use this platform and most recent photo uploads as a starting point for group meetings with the girls about their appearance. Education about media, the use of Photoshop and unrealistic expectations from TV, films and fashion may also be discussed.

Anger management was a key area we had to work on. We arranged for Warm Heart’s social worker and the Children’s Home Director to go to Chiang Mai University to learn how to deliver anger management training sessions. The children highlighted as having anger management difficulties will be divided into groups according to their age and will have regular meetings with their mentors. I have also developed a board game for the younger kids to teach them anger management techniques and get them talking about times they have felt angry – all with the help of some colorful monsters!

I also wanted to make sure that ongoing actions were not dropped when I left. There is now going to be a regular meeting every Thursday to discuss how action items have been put into place and talk about any new concerns. I have left the remaining actions with the new social worker and arranged for everything to be translated so nothing gets forgotten or misunderstood. It feels great to know that the mental health and well-being of each individual child will continue to be noticed and actioned after my departure.

With limited guidance, experience and time this was an ambitious project to complete. Although there have been many difficulties throughout the process, I am so pleased to have been given the opportunity to allow each child to communicate how they are feeling. I am also really grateful to have worked with the staff here to evaluate how best to meet each individual child’s needs.

My experience here has given me the confidence to conduct a mental health project by myself. In September this year I am going to study Mental Health at Masters level at The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IPPN) at King’s College London. This project has been a great start to my career as a psychologist; I am now so excited to start the course and learn more!I feel privileged to have been part of such a worthwhile organization. I have learnt a lot and I leave here feeling I have helped Warm Heart take another step towards making sure the disadvantaged children here have a happier and healthier life. If that isn’t time well spent I’m not sure what is.