Children are forgotten in bushfire recovery, report finds

Children are forgotten in bushfire recovery, report finds

by Freya Lucas

March 23, 2021

More needs to be done to support children before, during and after disasters and emergencies, to protect them from long term negative impacts a report released yesterday by children’s charities UNICEF Australia and Royal Far West (RFW) has found. 

 

After the Disaster – Recovery for Australia’s Children”, found that children and young people are particularly susceptible to the impacts of natural disasters like bushfires, and governments, non-government agencies and philanthropic organisations need to urgently invest in research, policies and programs to strengthen their resilience following these events.

 

Children, RFW CEO Lindsay Cane said, are particularly vulnerable to trauma caused by events such as bushfires, and for children living in rural and remote areas, this trauma often comes in addition to “already significant disadvantage” because of where they live. 

 

UNICEF CEO Tony Stuart encouraged a collaborative approach, saying it was essential that organisations work together to stay ahead of the next natural disaster

 

“This report highlights that before the next disaster strikes, we need to put in place an emergency response which specifically protects children,” he said.

 

The report recommends an urgent review across federal, state and territory governments of relevant policies and frameworks that guide disaster planning, response and recovery efforts to ensure the specific needs of children are identified and addressed.

 

Other main recommendations in the report include:

 

  • Funding more mental health and resilience building programs in rural and remote communities aimed at children 0-12 years

 

  • Funding research (in collaboration with service providers) to understand the needs and ‘voice’ of children and young people, and the interventions and responses that best support them, particularly those who are affected by trauma and disadvantage

 

  • Increased education for communities, in particular the key adults around the children, about the impact of disasters and what supports they most need

 

  • Establishing a panel of preferred providers that are ‘fit for purpose’ to respond quickly in the event of a natural disaster or emergency event that can provide relief and long-term recovery programs for children.

 

Ms Cane said key learnings from the Bushfire Recovery Program show recovery efforts must be community driven, and that pre-existing factors like drought and disadvantage impact greatly on a community’s recovery from natural disasters.

 

Mr Stuart called for funding to be given to promote research and gather further material to enhance the evidence base about what works best to support children and young people following natural disasters.

 

“Children need a safe and secure environment to be able to develop, and the experience of trauma or a large- scale emergency event interrupts childhood, affecting mental health, emotional wellbeing and childhood development through to adolescence and young adulthood,” he said.

 

“Funding should be provided for programs over an extended period, as research shows trauma can often present in children some time down the track.” 

 

The report findings were reached by UNICEF Australia and RFW working in conjunction with an independent disaster resilience expert following a partnership formed as a result of the Black Summer bushfires. 

 

The partnership, known as the Bushfire Recovery Program, provides psychosocial and learning programs for children within 35 bushfire affected communities across New South Wales. Funding for the program has been provided exclusively by philanthropy but will cease in June this year.

 

To access the report, please see here

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