Australian-first study to futureproof caring for young children in disasters

Western Sydney University and the Australian Breastfeeding Association are calling on caregivers of infants and young children impacted by the devastating Black Summer Bushfires to share their experiences as part of a first-of-its-kind study.

The Babies and Young Children in the Black Summer Study (BiBS Study) aims to identify the needs of families with young children in disasters to inform future planning by surveying both caregivers and first responders.

Study lead Adjunct Associate Professor Karleen Gribble from Western Sydney University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery said the 2019–20 bushfire season – the worst recorded in Australia – can offer critical insight into the impact on infants and young children to help improve future responses.

“The vastness of the Black Summer Bushfires and large numbers of individuals impacted by them, provide an important opportunity to capture the experiences of families with young children and the emergency responders supporting them in a large-scale Australian emergency,” said Adjunct Associate Professor Gribble.

“Infants and young children are incredibly vulnerable in a disaster and emergency planning needs to better accommodate their caregivers and support responders. That’s why we’re calling on those impacted to consider sharing their experience to help us understand how we can better prepare for them in the future.”

Research conducted by Adjunct Associate Professor Karleen Gribble, including an audit of Australia’s emergency plans and guidance, found a lack of planning for young children is placing them at serious risk of adverse health consequences in emergencies.

After the unprecedented Black Summer Bushfires, more than 40 health, women’s, children’s, and emergency organisations signed a Call for Action to the Federal Government asking for urgent action to be taken to protect young children in disasters.

Adjunct Associate Professor Karleen Gribble highlighted that a range of issues and concerns were reported by caregivers that need to be addressed, such as difficulty accessing feeding supplies, clean water, medical services, and evacuation centre suitability for children during the fires.

“With increasing natural disasters impacting Australia and the world, it is even more important that emergency planning account for infants and young children, who without access to appropriate food and fluid can become seriously ill within hours, particularly in hot weather,” said Adjunct Associate Professor Gribble.

The study is part of the Community Protection for Infants and Young Children in Bushfire Emergencies Project led by the Australian Breastfeeding Association which received funding from the Australian Government under the Preparing Australian Communities Local Stream grant program.

Australian Breastfeeding Association Senior Manager, Naomi Hull said, “We are thrilled to be able to collaborate on this important research and to have the opportunity to hear the experiences of families who were caring for infants and small children throughout the Black Summer Bushfires.”

“These valuable insights will be put to great use in the development of resources and informing emergency services. It is vital that families with young children receive good support in disasters.”

The research team hope the study will provide an evidence base for the development of planning and guidance to support the parents and caregivers of infants and young children in natural disasters in Australia and globally.

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