ECV2020-176

A rapid review of the impact of bushfire on the emotional wellbeing of children living in rural and remote Australia

Sarah Verdon, Charles Sturt University, Australia (sverdon@csu.edu.au)
Michael Curtin, Charles Sturt University, Australia (mcurtin@csu.edu.au)
Robert Brooks, Royal Far West, Australia (RobertB@royalfarwest.org.au)
Judith Crockett, Charles Sturt University, Australia (jcrockett@csu.edu.au)
Gene Hodgins, Charles Sturt University, Australia (ghodgins@csu.edu.au)

Background: As a result of climate change the frequency of bushfires in Australia is predicted to increase, becoming recurring events causing significant impact on children in rural and remote communities. Children are often invisible in the urgent contexts of fires, yet they may experience significant consequences for their short- and long-term wellbeing.

Aim: The aim of this rapid review was to investigate the impact of bushfire events on the wellbeing of children living in rural and remote Australia and to identify possible interventions to support children’s wellbeing.

Method: This rapid review was undertaken using the PRISMA statement for systematic reviews. Data were sourced from six databases (EBSCOhost (education), EBSCOhost (health), EBSCOhost (psychology), Informit, Medline, and PsycINFO). Search terms were developed to identify articles that could address the research question based on the inclusion criteria of peer reviewed full text journal articles published in English, between the years of 1983 to 2020. A total of 60 studies were initially identified. Following closer review data were extracted from a total of eight studies which met the inclusion criteria.

Results: The review found that children exposed to bushfires may be at increased risk of poorer wellbeing outcomes. Children particularly at risk were those from more vulnerable backgrounds who may have compounding factors in their immediate and wider environment limiting their ability to overcome bushfire trauma. Findings suggest that the impact of bushfire exposure may not be apparent in the short term but may become more pronounced later in life.

Conclusions: This review identified the short-, medium-, and long-term impacts of bushfire exposure upon the wellbeing of children in Australia. There were no evidence-based interventions identified for supporting the outcomes of this population. Given the likely increase in bushfire events in Australia research into effective interventions should be a priority.

Implications for children: Having a bushfire near your home can be scary and it’s okay to feel worried. There are lots of adults including your parents and teachers who can help you to talk about how you are feeling.

Implications for families: Bushfires can be a traumatic experience for families and communities. Children can be affected in many ways and these effects may not show up until months or years after the fire. However, children are resilient and strong family support can buffer the effects of bushfire. It is good to talk to children about their experiences and support their understanding of the experience.

Implications for practitioners: Professionals can play an important role in supporting communities and families in the aftermath of a bushfire. Creating a supportive environment for children can mediate the impacts of bushfire and help to reduce the long-term impacts.

Funding: This collaboration between Charles Sturt University and Royal Far West was funded by the Spinifex Network.

Key words: children, rural, remote, bushfire, wellbeing, communication, health, literature review

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

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