Six months on from the devastating Australian bushfires, Save the Children is warning that children’s mental health needs remain urgent and must not be neglected amid the outbreak of coronavirus.
With the next bushfire season fast approaching, the leading child rights agency wants to ensure children’s mental health needs are being met and their voices are heard as communities try to rebuild.
Save the Children Executive Director of Australian Services, Matt Gardiner said that children in bushfire affected communities are still suffering, and they desperately need more support.
“While the world is grappling with COVID-19, many Australian children are also battling the lingering emotional impacts of the fires.
“We cannot underestimate the ongoing impact the fires are having on children who experienced traumatic or distressing things during the emergency.
“The next bushfire season is only a few months away, and it’s clear there is a lot that could be playing on the minds of these kids.
“We need to ensure COVID-19 is not an excuse to be distracted from meeting the needs of these communities and their children.”
From Term 3, Save the Children is rolling out its Journey of Hope program to schools in bushfire affected communities to support children’s emotional recovery and build resilience.
“We know from our work responding to disasters all over the world that they affect children in different ways and the memories and experiences don’t just go away,” Mr Gardiner said.
“If left untreated they can impact different facets of a child’s life like education, relationships and overall mental health, and for many years.
“Children need the right support to process and deal with what they have been through, and in a safe, supported environment. The sooner these children can access that type of support, the better off they will be.”
Journey of Hope helps children and caregivers cope with collective trauma by helping them identify triggers and stressors, develop natural resilience and coping strategies, and strengthen social support networks. The program was first used in the US in response to Hurricane Katrina, as well as in New Zealand after the Christchurch earthquake, and has reached some 85,000 children.
In its submissions to the various bushfire inquiries including the Royal Commission earlier this year, Save the Children made a range of recommendations including that all future recovery efforts are long-term, have children at the centre and include funding for specialised school-based programs that support children’s emotional recovery.
In response to the bushfires Save the Children set up 10 Child Friendly Spaces in evacuation, relief and recovery centres in NSW, Victoria and South Australia, and provided outreach psychosocial support across NSW and Victoria, reaching more than 1,500 children in total.