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Child Trauma Counselling

When children experience something they don’t understand, how can they possibly know where to seek help and/or assistance? Children’s need for emotional assistance will often become visible in their verbal and/or physical behaviour. It can be even more daunting for the child talking to a parent, than another adult.

If a child’s behaviour changes, consider what’s happening in his/her life - is there anything that might have triggered his/her distress? Separation/divorce, loss of a loved one, bullying, neglect, abandonment, abuse, and separation anxiety (to mention a few) may be possible scenarios causing trauma. Stress can also escalate, which may cause children to be oblivious of how to cope and/or deal therewith. This may very well be the appropriate time to call for professional intervention and assistance.

Consulting a counsellor can take away some of the pressure experienced by the child and counselling offers a safe environment for children to express their feelings and to give them an understanding of what may have caused them to feel the way they feel. Counselling can also help with self-harm concerns, grief, depression, anxiety and learning difficulties.

Trauma Evaluations

Emotional trauma is a type of damage to the psyche that occurs as a result of a severely distressing event. Trauma is often the result of an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds one's ability to cope or integrate the emotions involved with that experience. A traumatic event involves one experience and/or repeating events with the sense of being overwhelmed. This in turn can be delayed for weeks, years or even decades as the person struggles to cope with the immediate circumstances, eventually leading to serious and long-term negative consequences, often overlooked.

Evaluations may show that medical and/or biological causes are not evident and this would be important information for the parents and counsellor to know. In cases where the counsellor feels that the child needs to be referred to a Social Worker, Psychiatrist or Psychologist, it would be communicated to the parent immediately. Parents must take note that this is a Counselling Practice to assist children to work through trauma and difficulties experienced in day to day struggles and not Psychiatric/Psychological Practice, therefor no psychiatric/psychological report can be issued.

Play Therapy as Treatment Method

In play therapy, the counsellor meets with the child alone for most of the sessions and may arrange times to meet with parents separately and/or with the child, depending on the situation and circumstances. The structure of the sessions is maintained in a consistent manner to provide a feeling of safety and stability for the child and parents. Play therapy offers a child a safe place to play out (rather than talk out) his/her thoughts, feelings and problems.

The counsellor chooses toys that encourage “fantasy play” with mediums such as clay, sand, water, drawing materials and puppets, as well as toys that enable a child to act out real-life scenarios. The counsellor builds a constructive and supportive relationship with the child, thereby encouraging the child to open through the symbolic language of play. During a session, few limits are set and the child is given complete freedom to control his play and actions. In such a protective, yet empowering environment, the child generally leads the counsellor to the source of his/her emotional disturbance through his/her activity and/or behaviour. The counsellor uses developmentally appropriate techniques to help the child let go of negative or restricting feelings and to develop coping mechanisms to use in real life. The methods used in sessions will depend on the child’s age, levels of maturity, stage of development and the current circumstances/situation the child finds himself/herself in.

Divorce/Separation Support

As parents, it is normal to feel uncertain about how to give your child/ren the appropriate support through a divorce or separation. It may be uncharted territory for everybody involved, but with the appropriate assistance, parents and children can be successfully navigate and guided during these unsettling times to retain and/or gain self-esteem, confidence and strength.

There are many ways in which parents can help their children to adjust to separation and/or divorce. Patience, reassurance and a listening ear can minimize tension as children learn to cope with new circumstances. It may be imperative for parents to maintain a proper and well balanced working relationship with each other during such unfavourable circumstances in order for the child/ren to escape and avoid the stress related thereto. Unfortunately such transitional time will not occur without some form or measure of hardship, but can be powerfully managed and reduced by making the will-being of any child a top priority by both parents.

Child Assist will be able to assist and support parents and children during the divorce or separation process by way of counselling developed for this purpose.

Unless special circumstances exist, children generally cope best when they have the emotional and financial support and ongoing involvement of both parents. The lack of involvement of one or both parents may lead to developmental problems later in the child's life. Children adjust much better to crisis and loss if their parents work together to develop healthy ways of communicating, reducing conflict, and resolving problems. Parents can help their child/ren to adjust to separation issues by establishing a visitation schedule that focuses on the needs of the children. A child’s needs change as he/she grows older and move from one developmental phase to the next. For this reason, each visitation schedule must be flexible, changing in duration and frequency as the child gets older and moves through his/her developmental phases. It is important for parents to remember that the formation of a positive parent-child relationship is a life-long process, and that the key to a successful relationship is the quality of time, rather than quantity of time, spent together.

Supervised Contact

Special Situations

Supervised contact is focussed on assuring that children can have safe, conflict-free access to parents whom they do not reside with. Children who need these services live in foster homes or with relatives. Some live with one parent who might be estranged from the other. Supervised Visits and Supervised Exchanges are designed to assure that children can have safe contact with the visiting parent without having to be exposed to their parents' conflicts or other problems. It is the child's needs and rights that are of paramount importance in making any decisions regarding supervision of visits or exchanges. There are also some significant benefits to parents partaking in supervised contact. Supervised visitations or exchanges should not be stigmatized or underscored. It is a tool which can help families who go through difficult and/or transitional times. Supervised contact is only appropriate if there are genuine concerns about a child's emotional or physical safety when with any particular or both parents.

Should Child Assist not be able to supervise visits, alternative independent and trained supervisors will be commissioned or requested to provide such specialized services.

Should any of the following special situations exist, supervised contact needs to be considered:

  • Where physical, sexual, and/or emotional child abuse has occurred against a child.
  • The abandonment and/or exploitation of a child or any related circumstances.
  • Where drug or alcohol abuse has occurred and directly/indirectly impacts on a child.

Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, and Chemical Dependency

Parents who have valid concerns for the safety of their children should seek help from SAPS, an attorney, mediator, court services, child psychologist, domestic abuse office, the local social services office eg. BADISA, ACVV, DSD or any other suitably qualified person that can deal with the specific needs of such a matter.

Absent Parents

When a parent, for whatever reason, has never been or a current state is not a part of a child's life or has not had any contact with the child for an extended period, either in person, telephonically, electronically or by way of correspondence, both parents should be altered to the potential problems a child may face if he/she are required to have immediate and/or extended contact (like stay overs etc.) with such previously absent parent. In such instances, the visitation schedule should gradually re-introduce parent and child, taking into consideration the child's stage of development needs and the child's ability to transition well to contact with such a parent. This is referred to as “supervised reunification”.

Reunification

Reunification is not a legal or psychological term, but is more widely used in cases where parents and children are estranged. Reunification includes therapeutic intervention for separated families when children find it difficult in visiting with the non-residential/estranged parent. Depending on the specific facts and circumstances of each matter, the purpose and goals of the therapy involved with reunification may vary in form, substance and intensity.

The process of reunification requires a court order or alternative instructions from a relevant third-party mediation forum or legal entity. In most cases, the first step is to request reunification therapy in order to locate and make contact with the child. The Family Court would appoint a suitably qualified person as defined in the South African Children’s Act (Act 38 of 2005) who has knowledge and experience and can provide professional assistance for the child and the reunifying parent.

The therapist will discuss and stipulate the expectations of cooperation by both parents, expectations of treatment goals, interventions and parameters for extended family involvement and will provide directions and set in place arrangements for treatment, payment arrangements for the therapist, and other contingencies necessary in such process.

The therapist will also identify the factors contributing to the estrangement by working on communication, trust and probing residual feelings causing and/or contributing to the estrangement. The reunification process includes intake procedures of parents and children to develop an appropriate treatment plan and in-office treatment for all family members affected by alienation or high conflict separation/divorce matters and/or all relevant circumstances applicable to estrangement.

In the event of substance and/or alcohol abuse, allegations of physical and/or sexual abuse or past domestic violence, reunification therapy commences with a process of safe contact between the child and the estranged parent. All pertinent records and contact with collateral professionals and governing agencies must be available to the reunification therapist.

Everyone involved should have a clear understanding of the expectations and parameters of reunification therapy before it commences. The reunification therapist’s role is to prepare, conduct and conclude reunification between parent and child.

Work will commence and progress at the child’s pace and it is also recommended that individual therapists for the residential parent be utilized. Assistant individual therapy is useful when the residential parent feels left out of the process and when the child has significant concerns about seeing the reunifying parent. The therapist will spend time individually with the child and with the reunifying parent before meeting with both together.

The therapist will keep the Court or instructing body apprised of the process and its progress and may submit a report with contact recommendations at the conclusion of the reunification process, to have a structured contact plan in place for the future.