Northern Rivers ECEC educators are seeing children express flood trauma through play
The Sector > Provider > General News > Northern Rivers ECEC educators are seeing children express flood trauma through play

Northern Rivers ECEC educators are seeing children express flood trauma through play

by Freya Lucas

October 06, 2022

Many young children in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales are working their way through the traumatic flooding events experienced in recent years by re-enacting their escapes through play, art and craft. 


Speaking with Nine News Assistant Director at Evans Head-Woodburn Preschool, Kath Gillespie, said the event and subsequent displacement have had a huge impact on the age group. 


Whether it’s through their talk with one another, through re-enactments, or through their imaginary play, children are processing their trauma and working through their feelings about one of the worst natural disasters in Australia’s history. 


“We see it weekly in drawings, in how they play. They will draw where the river is, where the river came to their nan’s house… where their old house was,” East Lismore Community Preschool Director Sonya McPherson said.


Children are expressing their feelings of loss, for things and for places, and using the floods as a marker for past or future events, asking questions like “when is my birthday? Will it flood again before then?”


More than half the children at Evans Head-Woodburn Preschool lost everything in the floods, being rescued with moments to spare from rooftops, and now, seven months on, living in temporary accommodation like caravans. 


“It was hard, really terrifying for little kids, their parents had to leave them on the roof while they went down to a neighbour’s house. That’s pretty harrowing when you’re only three and four,” Ms Gillespie said.


“There’s some really horrible, sad stories.”


The Northern Rivers Preschool Alliance, a not-for-profit organisation representing state-funded preschools on the Far North Coast, saw 11 of its preschools go under in the disaster. While some, like East Lismore Preschool, have been able to continue to operate from temporary spaces, this is disruptive to the children’s learning. 


“We have got 101 [children] and that is really difficult. It is really full and it is really crowded,” Ms McPherson said.


“It’s been incredibly tough because we’ve got about a third of the space in comparison to [our old preschool].”


The preschoolers are often comparing their new space with the previous one, and staff too are feeling the loss. 


“You’re talking about nearly 40 years of handcrafted wooden resources lost, teaching resources, an entire library,” she said. 


The state government has offered up to $9 million to preschools in flood-affected LGAs with grants of up to $30,000. Preschools are grateful for the funding but admit it hasn’t gone far in terms of rebuilding and are now calling for more assistance. 


Staffing has become a challenge with some former team members leaving the area and not returning, which is having flow on effects to the community. Local parents are unable to return to work or support the rebuilding efforts without care for their children. 


It’s unclear when East Lismore Preschool will be able to return to its original site. A building report outlining the damage sustained is 142 pages long, and best estimates are a return in mid 2023 – but this doesn’t account for the predicted third La Nina season, which is keeping the Northern Rivers community in “a state of constant anxiety.”


“Every time it rains there’s lots of children you have to support,” Ms McPherson said.


“One quarter of our team lost their homes, so they’re attempting to be strong and [reassure] kids that they’re safe and okay while they’re also trying to internally reassure themselves.They’re just as triggered by the rain as the children are.”


Sadness, she continued, is “saturating” the town.


To read the original coverage of this story please see here. For more information about how to support the Northern Rivers Preschool Alliance, see here

Download The Sector's new App!

ECEC news, jobs, events and more anytime, anywhere.

Download App on Apple App Store Button Download App on Google Play Store Button