Save the Children has renewed its call for greater support for children affected by bushfires and other disasters in Australia following the release of a new report on displacement during the Black Summer fires.
The report released today by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, which is responsible for global displacement data, details the enormous and ongoing impact of the bushfires on those who were forced to flee their homes.
It also highlights the lack of specific services for children in evacuation centres, and the impact of displacement as a source of anxiety and distress for children.
According to the report, more than 14,000 children were forced to flee their homes during the bushfires, which spanned from mid 2019 to February 2020, and had a significant emotional toll on children.
“The Black Summer fires had a devastating impact on so many Australians who were forced to flee their homes, and especially children,” Save the Children Australia CEO Paul Ronalds said.
“This report reinforces our core argument that we must be better prepared to meet the needs of children during bushfires and other disasters, including through the provision of child friendly spaces in evacuation, relief and recovery centres.
“From Save the Children’s experience responding to the fires, we know that children’s needs were systematically overlooked at a range of levels, causing undue harm, and this cannot be allowed to happen again.
“Trauma associated with displacement and disaster can have a harrowing impact on a child’s short and long-term mental health.
“We need a more systematic approach to support children’s social and emotional needs during bushfires, including education, and in the recovery process, which can take many months or even years.”
According to the IDMC report, it takes people who have lost homes to disasters in Australia between one and four years to rebuild on average.
Save the Children set up ten Child Friendly Spaces in evacuations centres during the bushfires providing around 800 children with emergency and psychosocial support. The child rights agency reached hundreds more through mobile outreach services, and is also running Journey of Hope in schools in bushfire affected areas to support children’s long-term emotional recovery.
The Journey of Hope program was first used in the US in response to Hurricane Katrina, as well as in New Zealand after the Christchurch earthquake.
The program is currently supporting approximately 684 children in in 13 schools across East Gippsland, Braidwood, Batemans Bay, Bega Valley, Mid Coast (Taree and surrounds), Tumbarumba and Ulladulla. In Term 4, Journey of Hope will expand to include additional communities.
Mel Croan, Assistant Principal at Ulladulla Public School, said:
“The light in the sky for us with this program is that our kids are now feeling safe enough to talk about their deep feelings with the Journey of Hope facilitators and they are sharing their traumas.
“That is huge. They are not talking about their feelings with their teachers or friends. It is in these small groups that they are opening up. Students regularly tell me they can now talk about their feelings or emotions without fear of people laughing at us or making them feel weird about it.”
In its submissions to the various bushfire inquiries including the Royal Commission, Save the Children made a range of recommendations including that the needs of children are at the centre of our response to bushfires in the future, including the provision of Child Friendly Spaces in evacuation and relief centres.