Hi, my name is Sarah, and I am a Social Worker who has worked with children and families for the past 30 years. I now specialise in supporting children impacted by natural disasters in Australia.
What does your role involve?
As Head of the Community Recovery Service at Royal Far West I lead the talented multidisciplinary team to help children and their families recover from the devastating impact of the 2019/20 Bushfires and the 2022 Floods. In 2021, the Program was awarded the Resilient Australia National Community Award (Australian Institute of Disaster Resilience) and continues to be delivered in 50 disaster impacted communities in NSW and Queensland.
What Aboriginal Country do you live/work on?
I work and play on Gayamagal land, and especially enjoy running beautiful North Head and swimming from Shelley to Manly.
How long have you been with Royal Far West?
I have worked at Royal Far West for 10 years and earlier this year I was very lucky to enjoy some Long Service Leave to visit family and friends in Wales, and to travel and explore places in Norway and Iceland.
Have you seen any changes in the sorts of issues children have during your time at Royal Far West?
The impact of climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of disasters, which puts at risk the most basic of children’s rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on Children’s Rights, including the rights to life, health, education, play and decent living conditions. From our needs assessments following the bushfires and floods we learned the multiple domains of children’s lives which were affected including education, play, mental health, physical health and safety and their environment.
The Black Summer bushfires of 2019/2020 and the floods of 2022 were unprecedented in their scale and impact on children, families, and communities across Australia. Experiencing a disaster of this nature can have an ongoing impact on a child’s emotional wellbeing and development. However, young children are often invisible in the urgent context of disasters such as bushfires and floods, and their needs can be overlooked. Recognising this gap, the Royal Far West Bushfire Recovery Program was developed to support the wellbeing and resilience of young children impacted by the bushfires and to reduce the likelihood of long-term adverse effects.
What led you to work at RFW?
I studied my Degree and Masters in Social Work in the UK and was attracted to move to Australia after traveling the entire coast of the county in a campervan in the 1990s. Growing up in rural Wales my heart is in the country and I love being able to support children living in country Australia. I love learning and sharing knowledge and worked as a Social Work Lecturer in England. I continue to enjoy presenting at conferences to share the work of the team, RFW and help make sure the voices of children impacted by disasters are heard.
Can you describe your typical day?
The Community Recovery Service supports children and families impacted by disasters such as bushfires and floods in around 50 communities in NSW and SE Queensland. I am very lucky to work with a very talented team of Psychologists, Social Workers, Speech Pathologists, Occupational Therapists and Program Coordinators. The team is based both in our main office in Manly and also close to the communities we support. We make the most of the technology available to keep connected.
We know that families and communities are the experts of their own needs so we offer a “menu” of options so they can chose the right support for them. This includes children’s groups focused on the impact of disasters and other changes, individual therapy for children, parent groups using the ‘Tuning in to Kids’ program, individual parent support to link in with resources and practical help and educator support and professional learning.
So I must say, each day is very different, we may be planning a community visit, delivering therapy sessions by telehealth, facilitating a workshop for Teachers over zoom or spending time in community delivering groups and connecting with services. My day is spent connecting with the team to review and plan the delivery of the program, collaborating with key services in the communities we support and working with the whole team across Royal Far West to ensure the Community Recovery team have everything in place to deliver the program.
What do you love about working with families from rural and remote Australia?
Knowing how difficult it can be to access the right support for your child when living in rural and remote areas. I love being able to connect children with the help the need and then see the positive difference this makes in their lives.
What do you think makes RFW unique?
The team at RFW are incredibly talented and passionate about their work. At RFW we have an environment that supports creative and innovative problem solving so that we can flexibly meet individual child, family and community needs.
Can give us an example of a family’s positive outcomes through working with RFW?
The team are passionate about evaluating everything we do and we were fortunate to be independently evaluated by Charles Sturt University for the past 3 years. I think the best way to talk about the positive outcomes of the program will be in the words of the children, families and teachers themselves.
I can’t rave enough about Royal Far West and the benefits it has had for us as a family, the school community and I feel like the greater community. It 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)
They helped me to get the courage to speak about my emotions. It’s OK to say stuff you’re sad about. (A child aged 9)
It gave me hope for our family, to be closer and to be more connected. And hope that we can pass these little ideas on to our own friendships and family. So, I’m hoping that they, especially the kids, can carry that through into their own families and you know, make it a better world. (Parent )
I have got two boys, I feel like I am hopefully creating men who are going to go into society who understand themselves, can express themselves, and will be better fathers in the future if they have children. Because this program has helped me aid them. So that’s how I feel, how much I feel about this program. Is that they are going to become men who understand their own emotions and can express themselves. (Parent 8)
Where’s your country? – Where do you feel most connected to?
I grew up in magical village by the sea on the west coast of Wales, called Mwnt and I love returning there to visit family. Here in Australia, I love visiting the South Coast and one of my favourite places is the Blue Pool at Bermagui.
Can you share some career highlights from your time at Royal Far West?
The team being awarded the Resilient Australia National Community Award (Australian Institute of Disaster Resilience).
Designing the Community Recovery Program model to meet the gap in support for young children impacted by disasters.
UNICEF Australia selecting the program to be part of their climate action campaign and providing an opportunity for recipients of the program to share the impact of the disaster on their lives and to speak of the difference the program has made to their recovery from the bushfires and floods.
Adding TV acting to my Resume
In 2017 I was surprised and delighted to be asked to be the face of Royal Far West in our ground breaking Tin Can Advertisement, when the mother of a boy in rural Australia rings me in our office in Manly.