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Bushfires can leave a deep and traumatic imprint. Sam’s story…

Growing up in regional Australia can be a wonderful experience for families. Country children have incredible natural playgrounds right on their doorsteps and make deep and direct connections to the environment. Surrounded by vast landscapes, unique ecosystems, and a rich diversity of wildlife – they truly have a uniquely Australian upbringing.

Country kids grow up knowing their neighbours and develop a strong sense of belonging and support. They feel secure knowing their families and neighbours look out for one another – something that sadly often gets overlooked in city life. Despite the overwhelming positives country life has to offer, it is those same communities that can be the most vulnerable and impacted by natural disasters like drought and bushfires.

The Australian bushfire season of 2019/2020 will forever be etched in our memory. Millions of acres of pristine wilderness were reduced to ashes, and countless families had their worlds shattered – losing their homes, livelihoods, and sense of security. The physical toll was staggering, but the emotional toll was just as profound, especially for country children.

As a result of the 2019/2020 season, 2 in 5 children and young people in Australia were personally impacted by the bushfires (either from being directly affected or knowing someone who was). As this year’s warmer weather is predicted to intensify, it is impossible to ignore the reality that, yet another bushfire season is upon us – potentially longer, and hotter, and more dangerous than ever before.

Natural disasters like bushfires can leave a deep and traumatic imprint on the minds of children, even those who are not directly affected. Anxiety, fear, and uncertainty can take a toll on their young lives, impacting their emotional well-being and development.

In remote Australia, the challenges are amplified. Families are having to learn to live with constant change and uncertainty. These communities often face isolation, limited access to critical services, and the added burden of recurring natural disasters. When disaster strikes, the remoteness can exacerbate the trauma, making it even more difficult for children and families to access the support they need.

With each passing natural disaster, the number of children needing support only grows, and the complexity of the support required increases too. The need for trauma-informed care has truly never been greater.

Experiencing a traumatic event like a bushfire can have a devastating long-term impact on a child’s mental health, emotional wellbeing, and development. The recovery process for some of these children takes a long time, especially if they are not provided with the right support to process what they have been through in the days, weeks, and months afterwards.

Will you please consider making an urgent donation today so country kids do not suffer unnecessarily from the effects of increasing natural disasters?

Royal Far West (RFW) Child and Family Services can provide a vital lifeline for rural children and their families with complex needs. Many of these children are from communities that have also been impacted by natural disasters.

Our Child and Family service is a unique multi-disciplinary service where we bring country kids aged up to 12 and their families to our Centre in Manly to access comprehensive assessment and diagnosis services as well as receive a pathway to care.

Our Child and Family service is designed to connect country kids, parents, and carers to the vital care they need, but could not access locally, to help them reach their potential. Our team of experienced health professionals specialise in child development, trauma-informed practice, and are dedicated to the holistic assessment and management of complex child health needs.

I would like to introduce you to an extraordinary family who our RFW team have supported through this service. Sam, an 8-year-old boy, his parents, Andrea and Ian, and his grandparents, Jenny, and Doug. They live in a remote South Coast town in New South Wales, where the risk of bushfires remains high. Sam is the eldest of three siblings, with two younger brothers aged 6 and 1.

Sam is a sensitive and thoughtful young soul, who has big worries about death and dying. He absolutely adores his cat Smudge and is quick to worry if his little brothers are too rough with their beloved feline friend, fearing that “she’s not living the best life that she could.” You can only imagine the impact this bushfire season could have on Sam.

In his early years, Sam struggled with separation anxiety, making drop-off at his preschool a daily tearful challenge for both him and his parents. Despite this emotional turmoil, they persevered, sending him off with a heavy heart.

Thankfully, as Sam settled into school, like most kids his tearfulness at drop-off gradually subsided. What was more unusual though was overwhelming anxiety about his parents’ whereabouts, fearing they might have met with a terrible accident while he was at school.

School life wasn’t plain sailing for Sam. Both his parents and his teacher grew increasingly worried about his academic progress due to his reading and spelling difficulties. Despite having friends at school, Sam remained a shy child, sometimes struggling to grasp the dynamics of a busy classroom. Feeling like they had nowhere to go, Sam’s family turned to RFW after hearing about our services through a friend.

During their visit to RFW, Sam’s mother shared her own struggles with reading as a child, which she still finds challenging. She has carried feelings of inadequacy that go right back to her own school years and carries a real sense of shame regarding her academic experiences. Her emotional struggles intensified dramatically after the traumatic birth of her third child.

When we met Sam, he underwent a comprehensive RFW assessment, which resulted in a diagnosis of a Specific Learning Disorder with impairment in reading. This diagnosis brought immense relief to both parents as they realised that a reading difficulty does not reflect a child’s underlying intelligence. In fact, they learned that many bright children face similar challenges with reading. Sam’s mother had an epiphany and began to wonder if she also had undiagnosed learning difficulties during her school years.

Will you please consider making an urgent donation today so country kids like Sam can access the urgent support they need?

Furthermore, Sam was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) during a paediatric assessment, and treatment for this condition has significantly improved his classroom experience.

Our service takes a family-centred, developmental approach to child health and wellbeing. Through this process, it became evident that Sam’s mother was grappling with untreated post-natal depression. She received much-needed support from our Social Work team to seek appropriate treatment and support from local services.

Both Sam’s mum and dad and grandparents received valuable information about childhood anxiety and how to seek help for it. This was important for Sam’s parents as they began to realise how Sam’s anxiety had affected his behaviour and thoughts daily and interfered with his school and social life.

This then was exacerbated by the impact of the bushfires in Sam’s community and the team were able to help support his parent’s understanding of these impacts. They had concerns about local services, including long waitlists and a lack of available therapists.

“RFW helped us with so much more than understanding Sam’s needs. We left feeling confident and ready to take on anything the future throws our way!”

Our guidance on the effectiveness of online treatments, both face-to-face and self-guided programs, have given them practical strategies to help Sam manage his anxiety.

While the initial visits to RFW may have been a lot to take in, the comprehensive nature of our assessments provided Sam’s parents a deeper understanding of their son and themselves. They feel empowered by this understanding as well as the tools and strategies that have been provided both to themselves and Sam’s local school through video conferencing.

RFW has been a beacon of light and hope in challenging times for families across rural and remote Australia. Our commitment to providing comprehensive assessments, access to vital services, and compassionate support is unwavering. We can support children in areas where other services can’t reach. We believe that every child, regardless of their circumstances, deserves a chance to thrive and reach their full potential.

Our ability to help country kids like Sam relies on the generosity of people like you.

Currently, there are over 190,000 children across regional Australia who require access to developmental support. In many areas, access to these services is simply not available or they have waitlists so long that their books have closed. This simply is not good enough for our country kids.

We receive hundreds of referrals each year to our Child and Family service but despite our best efforts, the need and the complexity of the needs continues to grow. While our service is partially supported by the NSW Government Department of Health, we rely on the generosity of donors like to you to close the gap for country kids through our benevolent service.

This is why today; we invite you to support country children and families just like Sam’s who face the double disadvantage of limited access to developmental care and the impact of natural disasters.

Your support can make a world of difference. It can ensure that children like Sam receive the care, assessment, and treatment they need to overcome their challenges and lead fulfilling lives, even in the event of a bushfire or flood.

* To ensure privacy and confidentiality for our client families, our stories are representative in nature and real names or images are not used.

As we celebrate this year’s festive season with our loved ones, let us remember that your generosity can shape a better tomorrow for children and families across regional Australia. Together, we can ensure no child gets left behind just because of where they live.

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