December 21, 2021 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

A new frontline King’s clinical counselling program for families has met with positive feedback by parents and guardians of students in the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB). The Support and Aid for Families Electronically (S.A.F.E.) program is a free and virtual program that gives social work students experience is counselling and helps families at the same time.

 S.A.F.E is staffed by King’s Master of Social Work and Bachelor of Social Work students. The program provides students with an opportunity to gain clinical experience and knowledge, under the direct supervision of Emily Carrothers, Campus and Community Social Worker.

The School of Social Work partnered with the TVDSB to launch the S.A.F.E. program in February 2021.

The S.A.F.E program also provides benefits for the community as students offer counselling to parents and caregivers of TVDSB students. Families are challenged in many ways during the pandemic including relational conflict, increased family stress and related coping strategies, child dysregulation and anxiety resulting in behavioural issues, increased addiction and mental health concerns, financial impact and grief and loss. S.A.F.E also helps families navigate the system for other community resources.

Parents and guardians involved with the program have provided positive anonymous feedback. “It really made such a huge, huge difference for us. First of all, I was able to talk through so many issues. In a lot of ways, my feelings and my experiences were really validated. The Social Work student that I spoke with, she was just phenomenal. She really gave me great tips, ideas, tricks, and the kind of lessons that we learned along the way I was able to apply to other situations,” says one parent.

The program receives external funding from the London Community Foundation and their COVID-19 Response Fund. This has allowed students to be equipped with the tools for virtual service delivery of counselling support.

Participants from King’s include six Master of Social Work students, one Bachelor of Social Work student intake worker and one clinical supervisor, who has provided direct supervision and weekly peer mentoring sessions. Many students had previous direct practice experience from working in the field, which has positioned them to provide support to parents and caregivers.

M.K. Arundel, Coordinator of Field Education for King’s School of Social Work, says the program allows King’s students to expand their knowledge, apply theory to practice, hone their intervention skills and approaches, and participate in research to further their learning.

Arundel says the students are now “frontline participants in program development and implementation. Students have been able to experience how an idea to fill a gap in service within our community can morph into an actual program that also provides them relevant learning for their professional practice.”

“I felt accepted and valued in my role. I got a ton of positive feedback all the time, which was really nice. I just felt like I could make meaningful contributions to any conversation when I wanted to,” said one of the King’s students involved in the project. Their names are kept confidential to protect privacy.

Dr. Jane Sanders, Assistant Professor of the School of Social Work, is researching the S.A.F.E. program. She is a Principal Investigator on “Assessing the Support and Aid to Families Electronically program: An online social work practicum delivering support to families remotely,” looking at the effectiveness of the program and client satisfaction. The research is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

“Preliminary results indicate a very positive start to this program, noting great satisfaction with response time for service, improved behavioural issues of children as a result of support around parenting strategies, and appreciation from school social workers in having access to this resource for families,” says Arundel

Due to its success, the S.A.F.E. program plans to expand to include the development of virtual groups for parents and caregivers. The virtual groups will provide additional support around coping strategies for anxiety, conflict resolution, and perspective on child/youth social/emotional development as a residual effect of COVID-19.

The S.A.F.E. program has also launched a Twitter account to help promote the program and assist Social Work students in further engaging with parents. This program is partially supported by alumni and other donors to King’s University College.

Media coverage:

The London Free Press: University social work students offer free counselling to local families