Supporting rural children following bushfires: Evaluation of the RFW Bushfire Recovery Program

Research output: Other contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review

Abstract

Background: The 2019/2020 bushfires affected tens of thousands of children and their families across rural and regional Australia. Experiencing a life-threatening natural disaster such as a bushfire can have devastating short- and long-term impacts in rural communities. Although children are often invisible during the immediate crisis response, bushfires pose significant consequences for children’s wellbeing and development. Given climate change, it is likely many more rural Australian children will be exposed to bushfires in the future. A lack of evidence-based interventions to support children affected by bushfires prompted the development and implementation of a tailored, multidisciplinary Bushfire Recovery Program by Royal Far West in 35 schools and preschools across rural NSW. The Program was designed to enhance children’s resilience and wellbeing and build capacity among families and community members to support children in their bushfire recovery.

Aim: To externally evaluate the impact of the Bushfire Recovery Program on children’s resilience, wellbeing, and development.

Methods: A two-phased mixed methods approach was used. Phase 1 involved analysis of pre- and post-intervention data collected using previously validated and purpose-designed instruments. Data included: descriptions of the impact of bushfires, school/preschool and community contexts, and goals for the Program from school representatives (e.g., principals; n = 29); feedback regarding educational workshops from educators (n = 67) and parents (n = 9); and feedback on “Stormbirds” group intervention from children (n = 265), parents (n = 37), and group facilitators (n = 15). Quantitative data were analysed statistically, and qualitative data were analysed using content analysis. Phase 2 involved semi-structured interviews conducted online or via phone with school/preschool representatives (e.g., principals, educators; n = 4), parents (n = 4), children (n = 2), and a community leader (n = 1). Interviews incorporated methods such as photovoice (photographs) and were audio recorded, transcribed, and analysed using narrative and deductive thematic analysis.

Results: Positive changes were reported in children’s behaviour (e.g., increased trust and ability to talk to adults about emotions), children enjoyed the Program activities, adults and children valued the opportunity to discuss shared experiences, and ongoing support needs were discussed. Participants reported learning about feelings and changes in life, and strategies for coping. Other emergent themes reflected aspects for improvement, such as increased Program duration and greater parent involvement, and considerations for enhancing sustainability of the Program. Children’s access to necessary allied health services through the Program, which were previously unavailable in their communities or had long waiting lists, was a beneficial aspect of the Program.

Conclusion: This project provided the first evaluation of a multi-disciplinary intervention program designed to support children exposed to bushfires in rural and regional areas. The insights obtained from children and other stakeholders will inform policy and practice regarding bushfire recovery and trauma support in rural communities. Recommendations will be made for supporting wellbeing and resilience among children and families following natural disasters. Further investigations are underway to determine the medium- to long-term impact of the Bushfire Recovery Program, to provide insights regarding the ongoing support needs for children exposed to bushfires.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 06 Oct 2021
Event8th Rural and Remote Health Scientific Symposium: Connecting research, practice and communities - Canberra, Australia
Duration: 06 Oct 202107 Oct 2021

Conference

Conference8th Rural and Remote Health Scientific Symposium
Country/TerritoryAustralia
CityCanberra
Period06/10/2107/10/21

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