Impacted by drought, bushfire and the restrictions of COVID-19, many rural communities are fighting for their existence.
As agricultural and tourism businesses go under, local supply businesses fail and families fracture under the strain of hard work, mounting losses, and isolation, financial and emotional reinvestment in each community slows and then stops. And when this happens, urgent and significant action is needed to ensure the village survives, and to ensure the village can raise its children for the brighter tomorrow that should be their right.
The social and emotional fall-out for children in bushfire-impacted communities of NSW requires a multi-faceted approach to rebuilding the village, providing not just direct support for children, but also supporting the adults around them to ensure the emotional ‘village’ is rebuilt, alongside the more obvious physical infrastructure. It is not a task Royal Far West could take on alone, so we are taking a ‘village’ approach to the solution and have partnered with UNICEF Australia and HP to deliver the multi-layered support that is needed.
UNICEF Australia’s incredibly generous financial support was made possible from a $1.2 million donation from Carnival Corporation Chairman, Micky Arison, through his family foundation. In addition, our amazing technology partner HP pledged $250,000 worth of essential technology, including laptops, monitors and printers, to help students and schools affected by the NSW bushfires to get back on their feet.
‘This program of work is tremendously significant and important to us’, said Tony Stuart, CEO of UNICEF Australia. ‘These compounded disasters have placed enormous pressure on children and young people in bushfire-affected areas, and this work will enable meaningful assistance which will not only help support them through this extremely difficult time, but their families and communities as well.’
Over the next 18 months, Royal Far West’s mental health and psychosocial support will be provided across eight regions and covering 25 communities. The program will include group sessions to more than 500 children, and individualised child therapy to at least 50 children. It will help equip them with coping skills, problem solving, and decision-making, as well as knowledge to understand and manage the changes they experience as the result of a natural disaster.
The program will also entail support, education and training for 1,600 parents, carers, educators, health professionals and community members to support them in building the resilience of their children. In-community visits will take place when it is safe to do so. The services will be delivered by a team of our highly trained clinicians who have deep expertise across the areas of trauma, family support, professional development, upskilling, community engagement and telehealth.
Research into the impact of bushfire suggests that at 26 months, 30 per cent of children experience significant post fire distress. Such an experience can have a devastating long-term impact on a child’s emotional wellbeing, especially if they are not provided with the right support to process what they’ve been through in the days, weeks and months following a disaster.
Our CEO Lindsay Cane AM said, ‘The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated our transition from face-to-face to virtual therapy services. We have put together a highly skilled, dedicated team to lead this work. Together with our partners, UNICEF Australia and HP, we are here for the long haul to stand with these communities as they rebuild their resilience and hope’.
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