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Call to put children at the forefront in climate change response

Royal Far West (RFW) and UNICEF Australia are urging the Federal Government to put children at the forefront of climate change response.

Presenting today at Parliament House, we showcased a compelling short film and hosted an impactful panel discussion shedding light on the stark reality children are facing in the wake of climate change.

The event highlighted the unique needs of Australian children as their environment changes – from economic, through to mental and emotional impacts.

Speaking on the panel, Nicole Breeze, Chief Advocate for Children at UNICEF Australia said “climate change is the defining challenge of our time. We are seeing more extreme weather and more frequent and severe natural hazards, including bushfires, heatwaves, droughts, floods, and storms.

In 2019/2020 alone, two in five children and young people in Australia were personally impacted by bushfires; three in ten were impacted by drought; and almost 25% were impacted by floods. UNICEF’s own research has also found that under current emissions trajectories, every child in Australia could be subject to more than 4.5 heatwaves a year.”

Experiencing a traumatic event like a flood, bushfire or drought can have a devastating long-term impact on a child’s mental health, emotional wellbeing, learning and development.

Jacqueline Emery, Chief Executive of RFW said “children living in rural and remote areas are experiencing compounding disasters of increasing frequency and severity. This coupled with limited access to services and existing vulnerabilities makes recovery harder.”

“We hear the tragic stories of repeated evacuations, destroyed homes and valued possessions, the disruption of missed learning, the damage to the natural environment and recreation spaces, family financial stress and the loss of supportive social networks, and we see how children’s recovery following disaster can take months and sometimes years”.

“Having solutions and services, such as our Community Recovery Service, in place to support country children is vital.”

Our Community Recovery Service is a proven, highly impactful recovery and preparedness service. It takes a community-led and trauma-informed response that supports mental health and builds resilience in children, families, schools, and communities.

We are calling on the Federal Government to support long term sustainable funding for this service, to ensure children with complex adverse reactions are getting the ongoing support they need. Without further funding, this vital service will stop. The service is funded by the Australian Government and the New South Wales Government.

The Community Recovery Service originated as the Bushfire Recovery program, which supported children after the 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires. It has since grown to respond to increasing demand for support for children in 60 communities impacted by cascading disasters in New South Wales and Queensland.

Scott Baker, who has personally experienced disaster and engaged with our services, spoke of his experience “After the Black Summer bushfires came through our hometown, I could see the impact it was having on my son. He was getting anxious in situations especially when other disasters were threatening the area.”

“RFW was starting programs in our local schools, but I reached out directly to ask for some support for my son. They were fantastic, in just a few short weeks of sessions we could see a huge difference, and I’m now equipped with ways to support him.”

Scott is featured in the powerful short film “Children are at the forefront of climate change” which examines the impacts of the 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires and the 2022 Northern New South Wales and South East Queensland floods. Created in partnership with UNICEF Australia, the film highlights RFW’s service implemented in these impacted communities.

An independent evaluation conducted by Charles Sturt University shows the service has successfully delivered significant improvements in mental health and emotional resilience for children affected by bushfires – meaning children had improved social well-being, improved peer relationships, developed important strategies to cope and learned new ways to feel better.

The main findings of the evaluation include:

  1. A statistically significant improvement in mental health as measured by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) for children who received psychology teletherapy. This is particularly significant given child conduct problems are the most reliable precursor of all types of adult mental health problems and are associated with significant lifetime public health costs.
  2. 96% of school principals and educators said the Program improved the mental health, wellbeing and resilience of children/students impacted by disasters, to a ‘great’ or ‘large’ extent”
  3. 73% of parents whose children received teletherapy said there was an improvement in their child’s participation in learning or play and/or function to a very large or large extent, while this increased to 92% when those who recognised a moderate improvement were included. A similar amount said their children’s problems were better overall because of the program.
  4. Parents also reported that their child had increased emotional regulation strategies and coping mechanisms to deal with adversity as a result of participating in the teletherapy sessions; 71% of parents who completed the survey said their child’s emotional regulation strategies and coping mechanisms had improved by a large or very large amount.

 

Learn more about our Community Recovery Services

 

Zali Steggall, Jacqui Emery, Darby Salter and Elizabeth Elliott group photo in front of Royal Faw West banner
Zali Steggall, Jacqui Emery, Darby Salter and Elizabeth Elliott