bushfire recovery program

Bushfire Recovery Program Update – February 2021

Last June, kind-hearted people like you showed incredible generosity in support of our Bushfire Recovery Program, initiated after the dreadful Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20.

Our aim was to raise $50,000 to support our client families directly impacted by the fires. The response was overwhelming, with over $87,000 raised!

Through these funds, we have been able to provide additional psychology, occupational therapy and speech pathology services to client families who experienced some of the traumatic scenes which unfolded over the course of the summer.

But of course, many thousands more were affected across the eastern states. Over the last twelve months our dedicated Bushfire Recovery Team – consisting of five expert clinicians – have worked closely with some of the most heavily impacted communities. Their goal was to understand which developmental services we could provide to best support the huge numbers of affected children and families.

During consultations with schools, parents and community leaders, the team were confronted with some truly heart-wrenching stories. They learned of children who spent days separated from their parents while they fought to save their homes – not knowing if they had survived. Numerous families had lost homes, their livelihoods or both. In some communities, well-loved community members had tragically lost their lives.

We know from other large fire events that trauma often doesn’t show until months after the incident. Often, where there appears to be little residual trauma in the early days, symptoms can arise quickly when faced with triggers later. One parent recounted, “On the weekend my daughter and I were in the changing rooms of a department store when the fire alarms went off. My daughter really panicked. I didn’t think she was that scared after the fires. She couldn’t get out of there fast enough – even though we were told we didn’t have to evacuate yet. She was just about in tears and said she was very scared since the fires…It was the first time she had told me that.”

The ability to talk about emotions is essential to ensure long term adverse effects can be minimised. To help with this process, Royal Far West delivered ‘Stormbirds’ group sessions in local schools, which are specifically designed to help children share their experiences of trauma and legitimise feelings.

Stormbirds
A ‘Feelings Tree’ used in the Stormbirds group to help children express their feelings.

Additionally, the program provided a vital chance to identify children with more significant emotional challenges who might require further or ongoing support. Whilst our program focuses heavily on children, it also recognises that the whole community plays a significant role in recovery. Teacher and educator, and parent sessions provided information on trauma and its impacts on children and adults along with strategies and activities which can be used to support children in the classroom and at home. The sessions also provided a safe space for community members to share personal experiences, and an opportunity to connect to additional services like financial counselling.

We know that the fires – followed by a global pandemic – will continue to both deepen and widen the need for vital developmental services, but the Bushfire Recovery Team are resolute in their ambition to reach more schools and communities in the coming months. By providing intervention at the right time, we can give the children the best possible chance to fully recover from the trauma and mitigate effects downstream.

Bushfire Recovery Program Update

Find out more about our Bushfire Recovery Program.

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