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The scale and destruction of the 2019/20 bushfires have been unprecedented, with more than 10 million hectares (almost two percent of the total Australian land mass) burnt since November last year.
Tens of thousands of children in Australia have been directly impacted by the recent bushfires by being evacuated from their homes and displaced for extended periods, and surviving in hazardous air conditions, with Australian cities reporting the worst air quality in the world this summer.
Children have experienced leaving their homes and treasured possessions behind, driving in convoy through fire-affected areas and having to stay in countless evacuation centres until they find somewhere to settle safely. The added loss of farms, homes, pets and stock animals can cause great distress for children, who can struggle in the aftermath of disaster in expressing and processing their feelings and emotions.
Experiencing a disaster of this nature can have a harrowing 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.
A 2019 study into child development concluded that without early intervention, children experiencing trauma may experience negative developmental effects that impact educational and functional outcomes later in life.
Additional studies show that children in bushfire affected areas demonstrated reduced academic progress compared with their peers two to four years after the event. Significant delays in reading and numeracy have been observed in children who started school in the year before a moderate to major bushfire.
It’s critical that children are supported in the immediate aftermath of a disaster as well as in the weeks and months to come to process their emotions and build resilience for the future.
Journey of Hope, helps children cope with traumatic events, develop their natural resiliency and strengthen their social support networks. Working in partnership with the Department of Education in schools and early childhood centres in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, the program is implemented by specially trained support workers in small group settings to help children understand, process and express their feelings and emotions.
The program was developed following Hurricane Katrina in the United States and has since been delivered to more than 100,000 children across the world, including following the 2011 Emerald flooding in Queensland and the Christchurch earthquakes in New Zealand.
The model has been well researched and found to increase resilience, reduce psychological stress and increase coping skills amongst affected children.
Journey of Hope is delivered by trained mental health workers in small group settings, supporting 8-10 students from three age categories (5-7 years, 8-10 years, and 11-13 years) in eight one-hour sessions, twice a week for a month.
Through structured activities, cooperative play, literacy, discussion and creative activities, children are allowed the space and encouragement to develop healthy coping mechanisms and identify internal and external social support systems to:
The Journey of Hope targets a diverse range of coping levels to ensure those who struggle can learn from those coping better and allows for 1:1 support for children presenting with extreme externalising behaviour.
Depending on the needs of each school and its students, the sessions will be provided once a week for eight consecutive weeks, or twice a week for four consecutive weeks. This adaptable intervention model allows greater flexibility to accommodate the educational and psycho-social needs of students returning to school after prolonged absences as a result of the bushfires, and to align with different school and community visions for local recovery.
The $25,000 investment from Footprints would pay for 50 children to be supported through the program over 8 sessions.
Save the Children will be working in partnership with national and local governments and the Department of Education to deliver this program.
Journey of Hope program is part of Save the Children Strategy 2019-21 where we are working to ensure violence against children is no longer tolerated.