Gina, Primary School Counsellor at Catholic Schools Broken Bay took some time with us during our Safeguarding Month to discuss her role, how counselling makes a difference in our school environments and how we can engage our children in difficult conversations to help keep them safe from harm.
What is your role and who does it serve ?
My role within CSBB is that of Primary School Counsellor. I have had the privilege of performing this role for a number of years and feel that it is a vital role within our schools. This role serves many people and many functions. The children we see for counselling and support are the primary focus of our role but we also assist the classroom teacher, School Principal as well as other school staff who come into contact with the child we see for counselling. I feel we all play a part in the social and emotional development of that child.
How does your work make a difference ?
The school counsellor can make a big difference in the life of the child we are seeing for counselling. The difference may show by the child no longer being anxious about coming to school or no longer feeling out of their depth with school playground politics. Sometimes it may be that we are the person the child can tell all their fears and worries to, knowing that we will not judge or criticise them, but just be there to support them and guide them through this process.
How does your role contribute to safeguarding ?
The role of the school counsellor is complimentary to the role of safeguarding. School Counsellors are often the person at school who a student may disclose to and this is because they feel safe and secure with the counsellor and trust them with the information. School Counsellors work hand in hand with safeguarding to support those students through the process and beyond. Often as a school counsellor I contact safeguarding to get advice regarding information a student may have reported to me, this may lead to a report to the department or not but this relationship is valuable to all involved.
What does family mean to you ?
Family is everything to me, to put this into words is very difficult. My husband and my children are the most important things to me and the role of wife and mother is the highlight of my life as well as the most difficult role I have ever known.
Why is family connection with children so important ?
I truly believe in the old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Children learn so many different things from the different people in their lives. The role of cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents is so important in the overall social and emotional development of the child and the child learns so many different life lessons from those different relatives. Parents play a different role to extended family and are not only the role model for the child but the carer and nurturer of that child.
What are your top tips for engaging with children around difficult conversations?
I have had many difficult conversations with children over my career. I believe that children are very good at knowing when someone is genuine and when they are not. My advice is always to be honest with children and give them as much information as they are needing to hear at that time (in an age appropriate manner).
How do we talk about safe bodies with our children ?
We teach our children about safety from a very early age and I believe that the conversations around keeping our body safe need to happen early. It is important that we use language that is age and developmentally appropriate when we have these conversations. Just as we teach children to cross a road safely, or wearing a seatbelt in the car we also need to make children aware of keeping their bodies safe. The Catholic Care postcards are a great resource to use when having these conversations as a talking point.
How can we let children know their voices are being heard ?
Often children tell me that they want the adults in their life to listen to them and pay them more attention. Our lives have become so busy that we often do not devote time to just listen to what children are saying. We think that the conversations we have in between after school activities count as spending real quality time but this is just not the case. By devoting some quality uninterrupted time just listening to what children are saying, then they will feel heard.
What is something that makes you feel proud ?
I am proud of the strong young women that I can see my children have become. This is my proudest achievement personally. Professionally I am proud when I see a child being able to conquer a fear that I know was difficult for them, prior to having counselling.
How can the Catholic Care Safety postcard be used as a tool with families ?
Many people are not comfortable having these difficult conversations with their child but by having the postcard as a tool they can read the information together and use it as a talking point this may make the initial conversation less awkward and give the family a focus point.
Thank you so much Gina for your time and the important work you do in our schools.