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It’s often said that children are resilient. It’s perceived that they can simply “bounce back” from challenges and tough times, but this isn’t true for everyone.

In fact, research shows this is generally not the case. Traumatic experiences come in many forms, and if left unaddressed, can have a major impact on a child’s development and impair their trajectory in life.

6-year-old Lenny’s parents, Adam and Christine, have experienced first-hand the difficulties navigating the effects of unaddressed trauma.

When Lenny was three years old, he and his whole family was involved in a serious car accident.

Although no injuries were sustained in the accident, the experience left Lenny terrified of any car journey. Simple family trips became scary ordeals with Lenny convinced a terrible accident would happen every time they went out.

Just a few months later, Lenny and his family had to be evacuated from their home for several weeks during the 2019/2020 bushfires. Throughout the ordeal, the family couldn’t find their beloved cat, Monty, and Lenny spent the days worrying about Monty’s whereabouts and the safety of their house.

Lenny’s dad Adam, a volunteer for the Rural Fire Service, was, like so many others, away from home for a large portion of this time. This only added to Lenny’s distress as he worried about his dad.

It’s around this time that Lenny’s difficulties at home and school began.

Lenny’s parents and teacher noticed that the slightest trigger would cause him to meltdown or throw a tantrum. On one occasion, Lenny’s parents were called to the school when he physically lashed out at his teacher.

There seemed to be no clear trigger for the outbursts, and eventually they became so bad, Lenny struggled to participate in class and engage with friends. Lenny also became teary at bedtime and suffered from nightmares.

Adam recalls, “We assumed the nightmares and tantrums were temporary after the fires and everything he’d been through. But they didn’t seem to go away, in fact they were just getting worse. We were frustrated, not knowing what to do, not knowing how to help.”

Christine took Lenny to go see the GP, who suggested he would need a referral for a child psychologist, but warned with no services available locally, they would likely be waiting months.

Thankfully, Lenny’s school had recently connected with Royal Far West’s Bushfire Recovery Program.

Because of the urgency of Lenny’s situation, just a few weeks later, the family sat down with our team to begin to understand Lenny’s needs.

Over the next few months, the team worked with Lenny to help him start to communicate his experiences – helping him to identify and work with his feelings about the events.  The team also supported his parents and school to develop strategies to support Lenny through these ‘big emotions’.

Traumatic experiences in the formative period of childhood can be extremely damaging to the developing brain.

That’s why, when working with children like Lenny, it’s particularly important to take a trauma-informed approach to their care – not only considering what is happening, but what has happened previously, to cause emotions and behaviours to develop.

A year on from his first session, Lenny is still working with a child psychologist and occupational therapist via telehealth. He has built the skills to talk about his experiences, and in turn, Adam and Christine are now equipped to support him through the process.

Adam says, “We really didn’t understand that these events had such a significant impact for Lenny. It was instinct to whack on a smile and try to make light of things to protect him. Since he’s started talking about things, you can really see him starting to do everyday things like playing with his mates at school and going for adventures in the car again. It’s so great there’s programs like the ones at Royal Far West which are really focused on helping the kids, not just the adults.”

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

Please consider making a donation today, and help us meet this growing need, minimising the legacy of trauma for tomorrow’s young adults. 


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