College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Student Support Services Interns Boost Mental Health Offerings for Disadvantaged

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Interns working with the Student Support Services (SSS) Division in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) recently spent six weeks providing psychological services to children cared for by the Angels Care Community Project.

Ms Andile Mkhize and Ms Nokwethemba Mbatha worked with Angels Care – which provides for the education, healthcare, food security, development and crisis care needs of children from indigent homes in the Howick area – to offer psychological assessments and interventions to some learners.

The CAES SSS is an accredited site to host student interns for their one-year internship as part of the requirements to become qualified psychologists. Under COVID-19 restrictions, their consultations with students have continued unabated via online platforms.

Mbatha said the first six months of the internship programme provided insight into the day-to-day realities of a psychologist’s work, developed their skills through supervision by experienced colleagues, honed their practical competencies, provided them with workshops and training, exposed them to new theories and practices, and enabled them to explore their own strengths and weaknesses.

As part of this programme, the team offers free psychological services to the wider community, and working with organisations like Angels Care provides interns with the experience they need with clientele from diverse backgrounds facing varied challenges as they work towards their qualification. While physical interactions between SSS and their University clients have been impossible under COVID-19 restrictions on campus, observing strict protocols allowed the duo to work with Angels Care in person.

Organised and supervised by Ms Rossella Meusel, the programme was underpinned by a memorandum of understanding between UKZN and Angels Care, and falls within Meusel’s area of interest in clinical supervision – the subject of her ongoing PhD work.

‘Participating in this community project has allowed me to apply the skills I learned to conduct assessments at CAES SSS to Angels Care, which is a different context from the one I was exposed to,’ said Mbatha.

‘In addition to sharpening my skills in administering assessments and writing comprehensive reports, working with children was enriching and heart-warming and further developed my knowledge base,’ said Mkhize.

The psycho-educational assessments that Mkhize and Mbatha conducted involved assessing the children’s academic potential to determine appropriate school placement, as well as other supportive interventions.

Undertaking this work at Angels Care enhanced Mkhize’s and Mbatha’s training by enabling them to apply the skills they have acquired through their studies and practical experience, including conducting assessments, case formulation, comprehensive reporting, and tailoring interventions for younger clients. They were also able to collaborate with professionals across disciplines.

Angels Care staff said the interventions recommended for the learners are practical, insightful, strategic, and supportive, and staff and parents reported having a better understanding of the learners’ learning and behavioural profiles.

‘We are very grateful for both [their] hard work and assistance to our children,’ said Ms Jo James of Angels Care, adding that she hoped that the collaboration between the CAES SSS and Angels Care would continue.

‘Working with the UKZN student population and Angels Care has revived my passion for helping young people to better themselves and achieve their full potential in life,’ said Mkhize. ‘Knowing that I have contributed to the betterment of the children I assessed is fulfilling.

‘I feel honoured to have been able to contribute to what [Angels Care] have established. There is a wonderful saying in isiZulu, “Izandla ziyagezana”, literally, “It takes one hand to wash the other”. Just as hands work together for a common purpose, working with Angels Care added meaning to my internship while assisting these children in addressing some of the hindrances they encounter.’

Mbatha added that, as a result of her time at Angels Care, she is considering a career in the non-governmental sector.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Supplied