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Compelling New Data – Bushfire Recovery Program Evaluation Findings

Bushfire Recovery Program improves mental health for country children - Important lessons for the start of Summer

Evaluation of New findings published by Royal Far West’s Bushfire Recovery Program finds:
  • significant improvement in mental health for country kids affected by bushfires after participating in the Bushfire Recovery the Program.
  • Vulnerable children experiencing disasters in rural and remote areas are disproportionally affected with lifelong consequences due to lack of access to allied health services and higher likelihood of having developmental vulnerabilities

 

Read the reports here:

 

An independent evaluation of Royal Far West’s Bushfire Recovery Program (BRP) conducted by Charles Sturt University released today, shows the RFW service has successfully delivered significant improvement 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.

Jacqueline Emery, Chief Executive of Royal Far West (RFW) said “the Bushfire Recovery Program has been a game changer for many small schools and communities affected by the bushfires and key learnings must be applied to support children, families and communities after devastating climate related disasters”.

“We need to recognise the impact climate change is having on our children’s life trajectories. Not only does the evidence clearly show our approach delivers improved mental health and well-being for country kids, but it also crucially has better outcomes for educators and more support for parents, who are now better prepared to face any future disasters”.

Ms Emery goes on to say “we know the detrimental impacts of a disaster on a child’s educational, employment and psychosocial outcomes are well documented. Children from more vulnerable backgrounds are particularly at risk. Young children and those living in rural and remote areas are disproportionally impacted given the other disadvantages they face, such as limited access to health and care and the higher likelihood of having developmental vulnerabilities.

 

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. Most significant was the improvement in emotional symptoms; and conduct problems. 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.
Children, Parents and Educators shared:

“They helped me to get the courage to speak about my emotions. It’s OK to say stuff you’re sad about. It’s helped me and it can help others” Millie, 9 years.

“ [the program]’ has made such a big positive impact that we are really grateful for. And I can say that from a teacher’s perspective and speaking to other parents that have benefited from Royal Far West I just can’t advocate for them enough. It has just been so phenomenal for us to access those resources after everything that has happened for so many different people”. (Parent)

“Many students became calmer and developed a language to talk about feelings. When the school worked with RFW through Teletherapy, we were better placed to support students’ mental health” (Principal)

The award-winning Bushfire Recovery Program (2021 Resilient Australia National Community Award) has delivered clinical services to over 3000 children and their caregivers in 50 schools and preschools in NSW since 2020. The charity calls on the government to support long term sustainable funding to ensure children with more complex adverse reactions get the ongoing support they need.

“We are keen to continue working deeply in disaster affected communities with our highly trained teams,” Ms Emery said. “It takes time for kids and families who have experienced traumatic events like bushfires and floods to recover and build resilience. Our report shows our approach works and we have asked for ongoing funding from the Federal Government to ensure our highly specialised, trauma trained teams can continue this important work, where the recovery is ongoing as well as assist new communities when future natural disasters happen.”

The impact of natural disasters on rural communities and children is still being felt. Evidence shows these events most impact children and families that are already vulnerable and as a result experience higher levels of disadvantage and may need support for up to five years. Experiencing a traumatic event like a flood, bushfire or cyclone, without intervention or support can have a devasting long-term impact on a child’s mental health, emotional wellbeing, learning and development.

Ms Emery said “RFW believes we should embrace the lessons learned through delivering its Bushfire Recovery Program. It is to best prepare and protect our country kids and help them better understand and manage the changes they experience because of a natural disaster and develop skills for coping with future events.”

Other notable findings of the CSU evaluation include:
  • The LGAs with the greatest cumulative disaster impact were Eurobodalla, Bega Valley, Clarence Valley and Kempsey.
  • Nearly all schools that participated were in places that have experienced multiple climate related disasters.
  • The most disaster impacted schools were Eden Public School, Batemans Bay Public School, St Bernard’s Primary School, Moruya Public School and St Mary’s Primary School.
Background:

The Bushfire Recovery Program was developed to support the wellbeing and resilience of children impacted by the bushfires and reduce the likelihood of long-term adverse effects. It was designed so that it could be easily modified to assist with trauma resulting from other disasters or large-scale emergencies such as flood, cyclones, storms, and drought.

Since 2022 the Bushfire Recovery Program has evolved into the Community Recovery Program as our work expanded to include communities impacted by floods and multiple disaster threats in NSW and Queensland, with support from the Department of Health and Aged Care.

The program is a multifaceted, multidisciplinary, community-based intervention model, delivered through primary schools and preschools, providing psychosocial support to children (0-12yrs) and those key adults around the child including parents/carers, and educators. A multidisciplinary allied health team, made up of social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, and speech pathologists, delivers the program through community visits with ongoing support and teletherapy services.

 

The Bushfire Recovery Program is jointly funded by the Australian and NSW Governments through the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund.

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