UNICEF Australia join HP Australia, RFW to help bushfire communities battle COVID-19

by Freya Lucas

May 26, 2020

UNICEF Australia, Royal Far West (RFW) and HP Australia have united to help bushfire affected communities who find themselves in isolation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

While the immediate danger of the fires may have passed, research into the impact of previous bushfires suggests that at 26 months post fire, 30 per cent of children experience “significant post fire distress” which can have a devastating long-term impact on a child’s emotional wellbeing, especially if they are not provided with the right support to process what they’ve been through in the days, weeks and months following a disaster.

 

Help and support is being provided by the trio via mental health services using RFW Telecare, as well as community visits when it is safe to do so. 

 

The delivery of these services has been made possible through UNICEF Australia thanks to a $1.2 million donation from Carnival Corporation Chairman, Micky Arison, through his family foundation. 

 

Further support has come from RFW’s technology partner, HP Australia, who has pledged to donate over $400,000 worth of essential technology to help New South Wales students and schools affected by bushfire get back on their feet.

 

The combination of COVID-19 and the summer of bushfires has “placed enormous pressure on children and young people in bushfire-affected areas”, and this work “will enable meaningful assistance which will not only help support the children and young people through this extremely difficult time, but their families and communities as well,” Tony Stuart, CEO of UNICEF Australia said. 

 

Over the next 18 months, mental health and psychosocial support will be rolled out across eight regions, covering 25 communities. The program will include group sessions to more than 500 children, and individualised child therapy to at least 50 children. 

 

The program has been designed to equip children and young people with coping skills, problem solving, and decision-making tools, as well as knowledge to understand and manage the changes they experience as the result of a natural disaster.

 

Facilitating the continuation of the program, HP is donating over $400,000 worth of laptops, monitors and accessories to schools in bushfire affected regions. Consulting with education experts, HP has been able to identify those most in need of online learning tools, telehealth and other essential services.

 

The donations build on the HP Kids Fund, which was originally established to ensure that Australian children, regardless of their socioeconomic status “receive equal opportunity to flourish in a world increasingly driven by technology”, Director of Personal Systems at HP Australia and New Zealand Ken Maher said. 

 

“Now, in the wake of the recent bushfires, there are a lot of classrooms and children in our communities that are without access to essential learning tools,” he added. 

 

As well as mental health and technology support, the program will also entail support, education, and training for 1,600 parents, carers, educators, health professionals and community members to support them in building the resilience of their children. 

 

In-community visits will take place when it is safe to do so and will be delivered by a team of highly trained clinicians from RFW, with deep expertise across areas of trauma, family support, professional development, upskilling, community engagement and telehealth.

 

Lindsay Cane AM, CEO of Royal Far West said the COVID-19 pandemic had accelerated the transition from face-to-face to virtual therapy services, but that this acceleration was being led by “a highly skilled, dedicated team”.

 

“Together with our partners, we are here for the long haul to stand with these communities as they rebuild their resilience and hope,” Ms Cane said. 

 

This mental health program was developed following a comprehensive needs assessment undertaken by UNICEF Australia and RFW, in addition to extensive research on existing best practice models around trauma and natural disasters in Australia and overseas.

 

The regions supported by this program are from the following Local Government Areas:

  • Bega Valley Shire,
  • Eurobodalla Shire 
  • Glen Innes Severn Shire
  • Clarence Valley.

 

For more information about the program please visit the RFW website, here

PRINT