Right now, thousands of kids around Australia are doing it tough.
Many are facing the prospect of heading back to school having had little in the way of a summer holiday. Instead there has been fear, upheaval, and for many the loss of their homes. Their families and communities are struggling to come to terms with what has happened, and what is needed to rebuild their lives.
Supporting children to feel safe must be the key focus of the initial recovery efforts. It’s fantastic to see this work has already begun, with organisations such as Save the Children on the ground setting up child friendly spaces, supporting kids to begin recovery. So far, they’ve helped more than 500 children through these spaces.
But it is going to be a long road and a slow journey to recovery – as Victorian communities impacted by the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, know all too well. Last year, on the 10th anniversary of those fires, research by the Jack Brockhoff Child Health and Wellbeing Program revealed that many kids in those communities were still up to two years behind their peers in resilience and educational outcomes. And some of those kids were not even born at the time of the fires. The devastating fallout on families and vulnerable communities can be long-term, including loss of homes, businesses and income, leading to challenges to mental health, increased family violence, or substance abuse. 10 years is a long time for a young person to live with the consequences of bushfire.
In 2019 the Victorian Dept of Education asked Kids Thrive to develop a resilience-building program specifically for kids in communities affected by the Black Saturday fires. We worked with children impacted by the Kilmore, Murrundindi and Bendigo fires, empowering them to take the lead in designing and delivering community-building projects with local agencies and volunteer groups. We saw firsthand that one of the most effective ways to help kids feel safe, in control and hopeful, is to empower them to take action – to drive change that matters to them, to put them in charge.
I would hope to see that once communities get through the initial recovery phase, that ongoing bushfire recovery efforts can empower kids to contribute in a direct and meaningful way to broader community efforts – including creating and leading projects to help rebuild their communities, and making new, safe connections in their communities.
Being actively connected and engaged in recovery efforts will build children’s resilience and help them to better understand that they can make a positive difference in their traumatised communities.
It is great to see that $35M of the $86M committed through the new Bushfire Recovery Victoria agency is focused on achieving exactly this; connection, engagement and resilience. It is my hope that some of these resources go to empowering kids to take the lead where they can in this process, and contribute to the huge task ahead in rebuilding their communities.