Bushfire crisis hints and tips – supporting children, community and educators
Those who work in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector are often drawn to do so because of their compassion, and their desire to make a difference. ECEC is, in essence, a caring profession. It is natural, then, that as compassionate people, many in the sector want to support children and families who have been directly and indirectly affected by Australia’s bushfire crisis.
Supporting children and families
There are a range of resources which have been prepared to support educators to work through worries and concerns about the fires with children. Even those children not living in immediate danger of fire may have concerns, questions, worries and fears based on the conversations happening around them, and based on what they see and hear in reporting about the fires.
South Australian speech pathology and occupational therapy provider,Talking Matters, has produced a series of social stories to assist educators in explaining the fires to younger children, or to those with additional needs. Stories are available to support conversations about evacuating from the threat of fire, dealing with the smoke from fires nearby, seeing bushfires in the news, dealing with the loss of a home to fire and dealing with the loss of the home of a friend or family member.
A guide to support parents in speaking with their children about the fires is also available from Talking Matters, and can be accessed here. An alternative guide, produced by Victoria’s Better Health Channel, is available here.
The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority has developed a range of resources specifically for children aged between three and five years of age, which are aligned with the Victorian Early Years Learning Framework. Covering four topics – learning about bushfires, preparing for bushfires, responding to bushfires and recovering from bushfires – the modules are available here.
The Red Cross has developed a range of resources designed to support children before, during and after a natural disaster. These resources are suitable for use by parents and educators and may be found here.
A story about bushfires is available for children in many community languages, including English, Arabic, Burmese, Mandarin and Samoan. It tells the story of Birdie, a small bird who is forced to flee when a bushfire sweeps through her neighbourhood. With colourful illustrations and a compassionate but truthful explanation of living through fire, it is part of a series of books written with the support of mental health experts to support children to cope with natural disasters and other big life events.
Supporting the community
There are a number of ways in which ECEC services outside the immediate fire zones can support other services and the community more broadly. Some ideas include:
- Gather expired first aid supplies for use by wildlife organisations. Some organisations which collect these supplies to use with animals include the University of Queensland (information here), The Murdoch Travelling Vet Students (information here), Wombat Rescue (25ml syringes only, information here), Tree of Compassion (information here), Granite Belt Wildlife Carers (information here) , or Wildcare (information here)
- High 5 a Hero – a public Facebook group created to celebrate the “good news” stories arising during the bushfire crisis, celebrating community and connection.
“A place to recognise the heroes both loud and proud and silent and shadowed – to give our heartfelt thanks for all they have done and continue to do. To shout out to those who have left their own homes to protect ours. To recognise the strengths within our community to triumph in the face of adversity. To share some smiles and even some laughs (like this firie flossing with some local children) in order to lift spirits in these tough times.”
- Hold a fundraiser within the service, and donate the proceeds to one of the many bushfire appeals. Some appeal suggestions include CFA Victoria, Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund Appeal, Shoe Boxes of Love, NSW RSFA, CFS Foundation of South Australia, or the Foodbank Bushfire Emergency Appeal.
Services holding fundraising activities should be aware of this recently issued advice, noting the different rules in states and territories, as well as potential exemptions for some churches and religious organisations, kindergartens, schools, and tertiary education providers.
Any number of Australia’s ECEC workforce may have an involvement, directly or indirectly with the current bushfire emergency. They may be volunteer firefighters, have members of their family or friend groups who are fighting the fires. They may live in a fire danger zone, or have friends or family who do.
They may simply be compassionate individuals who feel anxious, sad, angry or worried about the current state of affairs. They may be worn down from bad news, or mourning the loss of places they once lived or enjoyed holidays in.
For educators in Canberra, New South Wales, the ACT and South Australia, there may be issues with health and safety from smoke haze in the air, or fatigue from keeping children amused when they cannot access outdoor play.
Leaders in ECEC services should consider how their staff are supported at this time, as well as using the current events as a catalyst to ensure that any future natural disasters are planned and prepared for.
Community Early Learning Association Australia (CELA) have prepared a simple guide to bushfire advice, which may be found here. Community Connections Solutions Australia (CCSA) recently prepared a piece for The Spoke which contains a series of reflective questions for services in fire zones, while a number of services have made examples of their bushfire policies available online.
The suggestions and examples shown above are by no means an exclusive list, and The Sector encourages services to explore ways to support which are unique to their local context. All information provided above was correct at time of publication, however services are encouraged to conduct their own research to ensure that information remains accurate prior to any donations or support being made.
For up to date information in relation to bushfires around Australia, please see FireWatch. For information in relation to states and territories, please visit individual websites as recommended by local authorities.