UNICEF Australia elevates bushfire response, helping children get ready to start school

by Freya Lucas

January 15, 2020

UNICEF Australia has announced a series of partnerships signalling a ‘major step-up’ in its response to the bushfire crisis, made possible via a $1.2 million donation from Carnival Corporation Chairman Micky Arison through his family foundation . 

 

As well as supporting children and families affected by the fires with a back-to-school package in time for the new school year, the partnerships which will support children’s recovery and rehabilitation over the longer term.

 

The Micky and Madeleine Arison Family Foundation contribution will go immediately to a bushfire relief program to help children whose families have lost their homes in Victoria and New South Wales. 

 

Once the immediate crisis is contained, remaining funds will be used to help affected children to recover from trauma and distress through the provision of targeted mental health support – an essential foundation for children’s readiness to learn.   

 

Importantly, the donation will help to ensure that affected young people are involved in shaping responses to future disaster events, something flagged in earlier responses from UNICEF to the unprecedented fire conditions in the 2019/2020 bushfire season. 

 

In welcoming the generous contribution from the Arison family, UNICEF Australia CEO Tony Stuart said the focus of the initial spend would be on providing timely and practical support for the specific back-to-school needs of children, including uniforms, school shoes, textbooks and electronic learning devices.

UNICEF Australia is addressing a critical need by placing children at the centre of its response to the bushfire crisis both in the immediate relief efforts, and throughout the longer process of recovery and rehabilitation. 

Getting children settled into their normal education routine is only the beginning Mr Stuart said, noting that “many children will be deeply affected by trauma and their ability to learn and fully participate will hinge on whether they are adequately supported to heal and recover.” 

 

The team at UNICEF Australia is collaborating with local partners to target an immediate relief package for school aged children. “We know from our work in emergencies around the world that this type of targeted support is crucial to help children who have lived through disasters.”

 

With the fires affecting mainly rural and remote communities where specialist mental health services are often not available, UNICEF Australia has vowed to work with partners to help address this gap and ensure that affected children receive appropriate psycho-social and mental health support. A range of clinical specialists to address this gap will be deployed through UNICEF via its partnerships with providers, such as Royal Far West.

 

Mobile, multi-disciplinary, in-community mental health support teams will be sent to reach children and families in 25 small and regional communities affected by the fires Mr Stuart said.

 

This deployment will consist of a team of clinical professionals – including an occupational therapist, a clinical child psychologist, and social workers – who will attend affected communities in a customised mobile van, to provide trauma support and other child and family support services to help recovery. Following consultations with the team and local communities, children may also be referred to Royal Far West’s specialised trauma-informed residential and/or telecare programs.

 

In addition to the first wave support, another critical focus of the initiative is to help increase resilience and to build capacity into the future, by providing parents, carers, teachers and health professionals with focused training and support to foster the ongoing healing, recovery and resilience of children.

 

The targeted support program for children is scheduled to commence when the more relief-oriented efforts are completed, and will likely reach and support over 2,000 people, including direct psychosocial support for 500 children. 

 

Approximately 100 of the children most in need will receive additional follow up mental health support, and around 1,600 parents, carers, teachers and health professionals will receive focused training and support.

 

For more information about the work of UNICEF Australia, please visit their website

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