Be You Resource Pack - Helping educators support children to cope after bushfires

Published on Tuesday, 03 March 2020
Last updated on Monday, 02 March 2020

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All across the country, Australians are reeling from the scale of our bushfire crisis. Its impact is unprecedented with lives lost, homes and land destroyed, and more than a billion animals killed. Many children have been impacted by this disaster, experiencing evacuations from their homes and early learning services, and even children far away from the threat have been indirectly exposed to the crisis. 

While the rains in February were welcome, some communities have come under threat from flooding. From fire to floods in such a short time has been frightening for many. Following such powerful natural disasters many communities are experiencing significant anxiety and distress.

To help educators, families and community members manage the mental health impact of the bushfire crisis Beyond Blue has developed the ‘Be You Resource Pack: Bushfires Response’. 

Containing a vast collection of information, the Resource Pack is easy to navigate and details how to look after yourself and others in the days, weeks and months after the bushfires. It is for communities both directly and indirectly affected.

Research shows somewhere between 7 and 45 per cent of children suffer depression after experiencing a natural disaster. Children more at risk of depression include those who were trapped during the event; experienced injury, fear, or bereavement; witnessed injury or death; and had poor social support.

Returning to their early learning service can provide a sense of familiarity and safety to young children. At the same time, educators may feel the weight of responsibility to support their learning communities. This may be especially difficult for educators who have been personally affected by the bushfires.

Be You is not a clinical support service. Be mindful when accessing the links that they may contain information that could be distressing. If you need immediate crisis support, call one of the numbers listed at the end of this article. 

How do I use the Be You Resource Pack?

As communities and individuals have experienced different stages of the bushfire crisis at a given time, the pack includes valuable resources for different stages of response and recovery. Recovery will be different for each community, depending on the extent of the impact, and the needs of each community may change over time.

The resource pack is divided into three sections:

  • Immediate: Information about how to deal with and manage distress in the immediate days and weeks after an event.

Example: How educators can support children immediately after a disaster or community trauma. This Emerging Minds resource includes an outline of psychological first aid, advice on how to help infants and children following a traumatic event, plus a list of practical ways educators can provide support.

  • Short-term: Information that may be useful in the first few months after the fires, which focuses on recovery and prevention of serious adverse mental health impacts that often occur as a result of bushfires.

Example: Factsheets – Trauma responses in children aged two – four years. This factsheet outlines some of the common trauma reactions that may be seen in children aged two – four years, as well as outlining signs that may indicate further assistance is required.

  • Long-term: Information for how to manage the longer-term impacts of the bushfires, including when children and young people are experiencing post-traumatic mental health challenges (for example depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or other anxiety disorders), as well as information for how to prepare your learning community for the disaster anniversary and a future disaster. 

Example: Birdie’s Tree, Growing together through natural disasters.  Natural disasters like storms, cyclones, floods or fire can be very frightening and upsetting for babies and young children. This resource shares a therapeutic game and stories for adults to read to young children to help them work through the scary experiences and ‘big feelings’. Information for parents and carers is included in this resource.

In addition, the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health, Emerging Minds Toolkit, highlights six key points to support children in the weeks and months after a disaster or a traumatic event. These are:

  • Be patient and understanding
  • Give children the opportunity to talk
  • Give young children time to play
  • Maintain stability, routine and connection
  • Take care of yourself to better care for children
  • Most children recover over this time, some may need more support

The Emerging Minds websites states that, “During the weeks and months after a disaster or traumatic event, there is lots of upheaval and change in a community. With support from others, most adults and children will cope and recover over time. Some people will find it more difficult, and may need specialised support.”

For more information about clinical services available to the community, visit the Department of Health’s bushfire information and support page.

References and further resources

Be You Resource Pack: Bushfire Response

The Conversation: Bushfires can make kids scared and anxious: here are 5 steps to help them cope 

Mental health counselling hotlines: Lifeline 13 11 14, Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 and Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

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