288 – Supporting children’s recovery from bushfires

Presentation - ECV2022-288

Supporting children’s recovery from bushfires

Nicole McGill, Charles Sturt University, Australia (nmcgill@csu.edu.au)
Michael Curtin, Charles Sturt University, Australia (mcurtin@csu.edu.au)
Julia A. White, Royal Far West, Australia (juliaw@royalfarwest.org.au)
Sarah Eagland, Royal Far West, Australia (sarahe@royalfarwest.org.au)
Gene Hodgins, Charles Sturt University, Australia (ghodgins@csu.edu.au)
Sarah Verdon, Charles Sturt University, Australia (sverdon@csu.edu.au)
Tracey Parnell, Charles Sturt University, Australia (tparnell@csu.edu.au)
Judith Crockett, Charles Sturt University, Australia (jcrockett@csu.edu.au)
Wendy Rose Davison, Charles Sturt University, Australia (wdavison@csu.edu.au)

Background: Children are vulnerable to the trauma of natural disasters, such as bushfires. The impact of bushfire exposure on children’s health, wellbeing, and development may not always be apparent in the short-term, but may become more pronounced later in life, particularly if children do not receive appropriate support to process their experiences. The multidisciplinary, community-based Royal Far West (RFW) Bushfire Recovery Program (BRP) was developed to mitigate the impact of bushfires on the health, wellbeing, and development of children.  

Aim: To explore perspectives of children and key adults in their lives who were affected by the 2019/2020 bushfires regarding the impact of the RFW BRP on children’s health, wellbeing, and development.

Method: A two-phased mixed methods approach was used, involving post-intervention surveys (children, n = 265; parents, n = 37; group facilitators, n = 15) and interviews (children, n = 2; parents, n = 4; teachers, n = 3; other school/community representatives, n = 2). Quantitative data from surveys were analysed statistically and qualitative data from surveys and interviews underwent content and thematic analysis respectively.

Results: Children learned to trust adults, express their views and share experiences through connection in a group context, understand they are not alone in their thoughts and experiences, and cope with emotional reactions and change. Moving on from the bushfire and marking time was another key theme. Some children wanted to learn more about coping strategies and managing emotions.

Conclusions: Children require appropriate support following bushfires to process their experiences and facilitate a trajectory of recovery. Community-based psychosocial interventions such as the RFW BRP can provide effective support for children to enhance their ability to cope with changes and emotional reactions following bushfire.

Implications for children and families: Participating in a Bushfire Recovery Program can help you develop coping skills and strategies to reduce the impact of the bushfire on your health, wellbeing, and development.

Implications for practitioners: Multidisciplinary community-based programs can support children to cope with the effect of bushfires and reduce the risk of long-term negative impacts on their health, wellbeing, and development.

Funding: The external evaluation of the Bushfire Recovery Program was funded by Royal Far West

Key words: children’s voices, families’ voices, professionals’ voices, wellbeing, communication, health, policy, government, community services, vulnerable communities, regional/rural communities, qualitative methods, quantitative methods

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

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