Social workers support bushfire victims

Social worker Rod Painter has heard some incredible stories of survival during his time in bushfire ravaged areas of NSW.

Rod, who works for Services Australia, spent more than two weeks working on Mobile Service Centre Desert Rose. He travelled to many bushfire affected communities from Bundanoon in the Southern Highlands all the way to Eden in the far south coast of NSW. During that time he’s helped many people traumatised by the bushfire disaster which engulfed their towns.

Rod met one man who escaped in his wheelchair when the fire was on his doorstep. He fled to the safety of the water where he was rescued by a passing boat.

“When you’ve been exposed to this kind of tragedy, people are running on adrenaline in the immediate situation,” Rod said.

“In that moment it’s hard to process exactly what’s happening other than they know that they’re not safe, and safety is such an important aspect of people’s worlds.”

He’s been meeting with people in their communities, providing trauma support and counselling. He said people affected by the bushfires have been dealing with a lot both physically and mentally. It’s important to reassure them support is available to help them rebuild. “Having us on the front line, so to speak, and being able to get out there and do this kind of work is really, really valuable,” Rod said.

Social workers from Services Australia work as part of a team to provide invaluable mobile services in bushfire affected towns in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. They can help people access up to 10 free counselling sessions through local mental health services, announced as part of the Government’s long-term Mental Health package. They provide distress support, social support, counselling and family based psychological interventions to help people through the immediate trauma and crisis.

Rod has previously supported people through other natural disasters including Cyclone Yasi in Far North Queensland and the floods in South East Queensland. He said while people can be reluctant to ask for help, it’s important to encourage them to look after themselves.

“Someone else is always worse off. Often they don’t want to access support so you have to make them understand they’re dealing with a tragedy,” Rod said.

“It’s an honour to be invited into people’s worlds, especially when they’re dealing with trauma and to be able to share my wisdom and move them through to a place of healing.”

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