As bushfire-affected communities now find themselves in isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF Australia, HP and Royal Far West (RFW) have joined forces to provide help and support using mental health services delivered via technology (RFW Telecare), while continuing to provide community visits when it is safe to do so.
UNICEF Australia has partnered with RFW to provide the expertise to deliver mental health support services made possible by a $1.2 million donation from Carnival Corporation Chairman, Micky Arison, through his family foundation. This year, RFW’s technology partner HP has pledged to donate over $400,000 worth of essential technology to help NSW students and schools affected by bushfire 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, mental health and psychosocial support will be rolled out across eight regions, 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.
Facilitating the continuation of the program, HP is donating over $400,000 worth of laptops, monitors and accessories to schools in bushfire affected regions. Consulting with education experts, HP has been able to identify those most in need of online learning tools, telehealth and other essential services.
Ken Maher, Director of Personal Systems at HP Australia and New Zealand, says, “We first founded the HP Kids Fund initiative because we believe in ensuring Aussie kids – no matter their socioeconomic status – receive equal opportunity to flourish in a world increasingly driven by technology. Now, in the wake of the recent bushfires, there are a lot of classrooms and kids in our communities that are without access to essential learning tools.”
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 highly trained clinicians from RFW, with deep expertise across areas of trauma, family support, professional development, upskilling, community engagement and telehealth.
“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,” says Lindsay Cane AM, CEO Royal Far West.
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.
This mental health program was developed following a comprehensive needs assessment undertaken by UNICEF Australia and RFW, in addition to extensive research on existing best practice models around trauma and natural disasters in Australia and overseas.
Image: L-R Royal Far West Social Worker, Chris Anderson, with UNICEF Australia Bushfire Response Coordinator, Victoria Clancy, at the Cobargo Bushfire Recovery Centre earlier in the year
*Alexander Cowell McFarlane M.B, B.S, Dip. Psychother. ,F.R.A.N.Z.P 1987 Posttraumatic Phenomena in Longitudinal Study of Children Following a Natural Disaster
The regions supported by this program are from the following Local Government Areas:
Bega Valley Shire, Eurobodalla Shire, Glen Innes Severn Shire and Clarence Valley.