The well-being and health of unaccompanied children is one of KIND’s priorities. On this World Mental Health Day, we are reflecting on the many ways that our staff attends to the mental health needs of our clients to optimize their health and well-being. In addition to connecting clients to mental health services, attention to mental health is woven through KIND’s model and begins with how we engage clients, from the first intake to the final court hearing.
Kena Mena, Social Services Supervisor of KIND’s East Coast offices, recently conducted a training on KIND’s trauma-informed therapeutic toolkit to new social services staff and paralegals. The toolkit, first implemented in KIND’s New York City office and a standard for all offices as of 2022, contains activities, techniques, and guidelines for how to engage our clients during intakes in our offices and when providing legal information to children in Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters in a way that is sensitive to their health, well-being, cultural background, and the trauma they may have experienced. It includes coloring activities, emotion charts, fidgets, dolls, puppets, and breathing, body awareness, and mindfulness techniques that can help clients navigate a new country and community. It also has games and toys, and a digital resource which has trauma-informed training videos for staff and videos on yoga, art for processing emotions, and breathing exercises for kids.
“In training our staff on the toolkit, I walk people through developmentally appropriate ways to engage a child or respond to them when they’re upset,” said Kena. “In our work with clients, we see that children need to be given permission to feel, and sometimes that doesn’t happen until an intake. If a client has experienced trauma or lived in very difficult circumstances, which many of them have, their intake with KIND staff might be the first time they are encouraged to get in touch with how they feel. KIND supports clients in expressing their emotions and seeking support to improve their mental health.”
Hannah Read, Social Services Coordinator at KIND’s New York office who works with detained children, shared this story:
I once met with a young, detained client who was sad because he was missing his grandma. He was fidgety and crying and having a hard time communicating his feelings. I offered him a sensory fidget toy from the toolkit and told him that I liked to play with something in my hands when talking about difficult things. He took to the toy quickly and was able to sit still while we talked as he played with the toy. The client identified drawing as something he liked to do for fun. I suggested that sometimes drawing when you are sad can be helpful. We ended our meeting by both drawing—I grabbed construction paper and crayons from the toolkit—and showing our work to each other. He drew his grandmother and his little sister playing outside with him. The toolkit gave him outlets to get his nerves out while still talking about his feelings. The fidget toy and the coloring were both helpful in supporting him and facilitating our conversation.
A child’s mental health is essential to their overall well-being. Kena emphasized, “We can provide many services to a child but if they are not in good, balanced mental health, the other resources we provide may not be as impactful, and they may not be able to take full advantage of them.”
Kena added, “We go above and beyond to protect the mental health of our clients. It’s important to acknowledge and care for the mental health of our staff as well, who are hearing difficult and upsetting stories from children. It’s important that we create a working environment where staff can also identify and attend to their mental health needs. I tell clients and colleagues, ‘Self-care is a buzz word, but self-care evolves and shifts. You need to do what works for you today and that may change. What brings you joy? What is healing for your mind, body, and spirit today?’”