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Whole Kids, Whole Hearts

a young asian amerian woman hugs a dog in an autumn, outdoor landscapeSabrina Saini has known since she was 10 that when she grew up, she wanted to work with kids.  She had some difficult circumstances in her young life that necessitated her learning resiliency and independence skills early on.  While she was able to develop the skills she needed to navigate those circumstances, she recognized that not all kids are given the support they need to do that. “Sometimes life isn’t fair, sometimes life throws hard things at you,” she said.  “I want to be there to support kids in gaining the skills they need to keep their lives on track.”

This passion is why she loves her practicum placement so much. 

For the past year, this MSW student has worked at the Boys and Girls Club of Sandy through the Whole Kids Emotional Wellness program.  While there, she has led individual and group sessions with kids on a wide range of topics: teaching them coping skills, helping them process trauma, and bringing awareness to age-appropriate life skills, such as the value of honesty and how to respond to bullying.  “These kids are going through a lot,” said Sabrina.  “A big part of what I do is working with them to approach their problems like kids … because they are kids.  Sometimes they need that reminder that they don’t have to have everything figured out.”

“Even when they’re going through hard things, they’re still happy-go-lucky kids.  They remind me: ‘Take a breath.  It’s fine to be mad.  It’s fine to be sad.  It’s fine to be happy.’”  She continued, “Adults tend to be adults; they forget to have imagination, they forget what it’s like to be a kid.  These kids remind me to be a kid with them—to feel what I feel, to play and have fun.”

Sabrina also has worked with staff on how to resolve disputes and how to handle behavioral issues.  A majority of the staff members are older teens, so sometimes they need help building those skills.  Sabrina has multiple ways of doing that.  “If I’m called in to a difficult situation, I take charge, but I don’t fully take over.  Then later, in staff meetings, we role play the situation and I give them tips and tricks on how to handle things in the future.”  She noted, “Working with kids is overwhelming sometimes.  Acknowledging and responding to the mental health burden on staff is really important.”

With both staff and kids, Sabrina has recognized ways her MSW courses are helping her be a more effective social worker.  “Classes like Practice II have been invaluable for me.  Learning skills like motivational interviewing, learning empathy, learning active listening, being present with your client—I think those help kids more than we can understand,” she said.  Even though Sabrina has a heavy course load, because she works primarily with kids and most classes focus on adult populations, she routinely asks professors for additional material that applies to younger clients.  “Those books have been so helpful.  I have utilized so many techniques from those books and some of them I’ve recommended to parents of the kids I’m working with.”  She continued, “It’s important to me to hone my skills and use them in ways that will be effective for kids.”

To Sabrina, the knowledge she’s gained during this practicum experience is priceless.  “Sometimes my practicum professor asks about how I’m doing with an unpaid practicum placement.  I tell her, it’s not about the money.  The experiences I’m gaining through this opportunity, are worth more.  What these kids have put me through, what I’ve put them through, what we learned together, what I’ve learned about myself, what I’ve learned as a social worker, is more valuable.  The experience I’ve been through with Whole Kids in this year has been exceptional and I’m so grateful for it.”

Racism: From Classroom to Field

Soon after Sabrina started her practicum, a pattern emerged—she noticed the mostly Latinx kids in the program, particularly the older kids, treating white staff members and administrators differently than minoritized staff members and administrators.  “I was like, ‘why are [the kids] showing so much disrespect, so much anger and aggression toward white staff members?’”  She reflected, “I didn’t realize how much the color of my skin could really affect a child.”  As a person of color, the topic wasn’t new to Sabrina, but seeing it show up in this way was unexpected.  Her experiences in classes like Social Policy, Community Strategies, and the Reflexive sequence proved to be a huge help in navigating conversations of race in her practicum.  “In these classes, I’ve been confronted with different perspectives of race and racism.  That knowledge has helped me talk to and support our teens and staff as they experience racialization.  Having these conversations has been a challenge, but it has been doable.”  Ultimately, she used her positionality as a way to bridge the gap between mostly white staff members and mostly minoritized kids.  “These kids are not aware of what these adults see.  And these adults are not aware of what these kids see on a regular basis,” she said.  Building norms for the whole community has been invaluable in helping to navigate the situation.  “When I have skill building conversations with the whole group, I require staff members to participate, to be part of the activities, and to raise their hands to answer the questions.  It’s important for these kids to see these staff members know what they’re going through.”  She continued, “This kind of practice helps build trust between me, staff members, and kids.  It shows we’re all community.”

Last Updated: 5/4/22