National Intern Day: Q&A with Sandra Ka, MSW

National Intern Day is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the instrumental role interns play in keeping our society running and progressing. Here at The Child Center of NY, interns are crucial to advancing our mission to strengthen families.   

 Anderson Sungmin Yoon, Vice President, Integrated and Value-Based Care, oversees our internship program.Our internship program now resides within the Training Institute in our newest division, Research, Development, Innovation, and Training. We are proud to have created relationships and affiliations with more than 30 universities and graduate schools, including Columbia University, NYU, Nyack College, Hunter College, York College, Stony Brook University, Hofstra University, and others. The program places nearly 40 interns annually, matching them with positions that align with their goals and training them to learn and grow as the future generation of professionals. 

As The Child Center’s internship program coordinator and vice president of research, training, and development, Anderson Sungmin Yoon, DSW, LCSW-R, CASAC, RPT-S, ACT notes that his goals for the internship program are twofold. “I am dedicated to providing our interns with experiential learning opportunities that they can integrate with their classroom knowledge and prepare them for their professional roles,” he says. “At the same time, they are playing a vital role in serving our communities.”  

Importantly, the internship program has served as a pipeline to recruiting some of the best and brightest diverse clinicians in New York. The Child Center prioritizes hiring people who are from the communities we serve and understand the challenges our clients face. This often means we provide interns with professional roles after they graduate. “My goal is to recruit, train, and hire interns to serve our communities with clinical care reflective of ethnicity, culture, and identity,” Dr. Yoon says. 

One intern who epitomizes this approach and its success is Sandra Ka, MSW, who served as an intern in our 0-5 Early Childhood Mental Health (ECMH) program and now works as a full-time social worker for The Child Center’s new Functional Family Therapy program.  

“This is what we aim for,” Dr. Yoon says. “We train interns to become future professionals and provide opportunities for them to serve their own communities.” 

In honor of National Intern Day, we asked Ms. Ka to share with us her reflections on her internship program experience.  

The Child Center of NY: How did you come to be an intern at The Child Center of NY? 

Sandra Ka, MSW: Dr Yoon was an assistant professor at Nyack College, where I was pursuing my Master of Social Work degree. The department that coordinates the college’s intern program recommended that I interview with The Child Center. I met with Dr. Yoon, and he told me about the opportunities that would be available—to actually work with clients, get hands-on experience, and make a difference in children’s and families’ lives. It’s exactly what I wanted to do.   

What was your experience like? 

The internship gave me important, relevant experience, and I got to make a real difference. At ECMH, I worked with children 0-5, their parents, and with adult clients through IPT [interpersonal psychotherapy], mostly with women who recently had a baby. I provided therapy, under the supervision of Clinical Services Director Seline Bearman, LCSW-R, who was a great role model. I also attended several trainings that advanced my professional growth. For example, one was a primer on mental health services specifically for children 0-5. This was novel to me. I didn’t know there was this initiative for clients so young. I also took an ITP training that focused on conflict, grief, and transitions. 

You mentioned that your supervisor, Seline Bearman, LCSW-R, was a significant part of your internship experience. How was she a mentor you?      

Seline helped me immensely. On the practical side, she is excellent with time management. I learned so much through her commitment to keeping our appointments, even though she was very busy overseeing the department and her own caseload. She managed her time efficiently so she was always available to me, and knowing that she was always available was really helpful. She also had a clinical expertise that would help with the cases I was working on, as did Dr. Yoon.  

Why is the work of The Child Center important to you?           

Children have very little agency. They’re not able to make big decisions for themselves. It can be hard being a child. Any support we can offer is really important because eventually those kids will grow up and shape the direction of who we are as a community and a society.         

Several clients mentioned that this was first experience in therapy. They had so much pent-up “story.” No one in their day-to-day life provided that support we all need, just uniquely for them, no one to listen to their experiences, their hardships … just really be heard. That was really significant. It encouraged me in this work that in somebody’s life, I was starting point of their support, and then we help them build support in their regular life. I feel honored that this is going to be their first memory of the experience. The most meaningful part is seeing their progress in a short time.  

Also, I grew up in Queens, in Woodside. I definitely feel like I understand a lot of the experiences our clients go through and feel a sense of kismet, being back in the neighborhood where I spent most of my childhood. 

What are some of the challenges you helped clients handle and supported them through? 

For the 0-5 initiative, some of it was behavioral challenges. I worked with families in homes experiencing domestic violence, so the children would sometimes exhibit aggressive behaviors, and we provided services to the whole family. Some children were in a foster situation, and I helped them navigate that transition. I also worked with women who recently had a baby, with their partner or with the client alone, depending on their situation. Just having that support, as motherhood really changes your life, for that new role, was important.  

You now work full-time as a social worker for the new FFT program at our Woodside Family Wellness Center. Congratulations! Tell us about your new role. 

Thank you. I am still learning and just started last week! This program serves teens. The way the role was described to me is that the teen is the identified client, but the family is integral to therapy, and their involvement is expected and central. That’s what drew me. As I said before, young people don’t have a lot of agency. Real change happens when we involve the adults in their lives. It’s important that those adults also get support with their mental health, and they all can move forward as a unit in a happier, healthier way. That was the principle behind the 0-5 initiative, too, and The Child Center in general. 

I really appreciate The Child Center as an organization—that they really value supporting and building the community and working directly with people where they’re at to improve their lives. I’m honored to be a part of that. 

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