Tracey Um, 29, is a practitioner working on the NSPCC’s Letting The Future In project. She lives in east London with her husband Nick, who works in PR.
I often wake up before my alarm goes off at 7.30am to the sound of my neighbour repeatedly pressing snooze on their alarm – it’s so loud I can hear it through the walls! I check the news while making a berry, banana and nut smoothie as I like to eat healthily. I’m a sucker for shopping online at Asos, where I buy jeans, tops and flats that I don’t mind getting messy when doing art with the children I work with. I leave home at 8.45am for my short commute to work.
When I get to my office, I make a cup of black tea and wash some fruit to snack on. My role is to provide therapy for sexually abused children and young people aged four to 17 who may have also been subjected to physical abuse or neglect. They’re usually referred to us by their school or social worker but occasionally the family will approach us direct. For our initial meeting, we visit them at home with a parent or foster parent present, so it feels less threatening. It’s there we get an idea of what the family are like – the child is only with us for 50 minutes each week, so it’s important they’re supported at home.
After the initial meeting, we invite the child to look around our offices so that they feel prepared for the therapy sessions. When a child is sexually abused, issues can manifest in different ways; some children become anxious and depressed, others are aggressive, while some have trouble expressing their emotions and simply disconnect. There’s no real correlation between the extent of abuse and the way that the child feels, it’s more about the way the adult’s power was used against them. The children have usually gone through the court system, so we ask them if they want us to watch their videotaped evidence, so they don’t have to go through the upset of repeating it. If they’re awaiting trial, we don’t discuss it, so it doesn’t tamper with their evidence.
I didn’t realise how much energy some children use to keep this part of their life secret
I bring my lunch into work to eat between 12.30pm and 2.30pm, depending on appointments. Children can have up to 30 weekly sessions each as part of their intervention – we fill a jar with marbles and take one out each week so they know how many are left. Until I started working in this field, I didn’t realise how much energy some children use to keep this part of their life secret – they can start sessions being quite boisterous, so we encourage them to let off steam by throwing a ball around before we begin to work on the abuse. With younger children, we use role play or toys to help them convey what happened and their feelings. Many of the older children just want to talk. If we become aware of additional abuse during the sessions or feel the child is unsafe, we tell social services.
I’ve seen first-hand how much having a social worker can help – my mum went to Australia as a refugee from East Timor and had a great one who helped her to settle in. They remained in touch and I saw what a difference she made to my family so I decided to do a degree in social work. The upsetting things I hear can stay with me, but I’m lucky to have an experienced team that I can talk to so I don’t feel alone. I also make sure I don’t take work home by doing a yoga, dance or fitness class when I finish at 5pm.
Nick usually cooks – he’s gluten intolerant and I’m vegetarian so we have soup, salad or a stir-fry. I catch up with friends at the weekend, as I like to stick to my routine during the week. I relax by watching shows such as the US version of So You Think You Can Dance – nothing too heavy. We’re both Australian, so we take advantage of the UK’s proximity to the rest of Europe by going away once a month – I like having something to look forward to. I don’t ever have trouble falling asleep when my head hits the pillow at 10.30pm.
The NSPCC’s Pop Art Ball supports the vital services delivered by people like Tracey. Donate at nspcc.org.uk/popart