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National Safeguarding Unit Statement on the Australian Bushfires and the Impact on Children and Young People

January 8, 2020 Safeguarding children

At the Y, we are committed to safeguarding all children and young people and this extends beyond our Y Centres and into our communities. We know that the current Australian Bushfire crisis is having an impact on all Australians, however, we also know that such disasters can have a significant impact on the emotional wellbeing of children and young people.

Research tells us that up to 45% of children and young people suffer depression after experiencing a natural disaster such as the bushfires. At the Y, we want to reduce the potential mental health impact of the current bushfire situation on children and young people by providing all adults with advice on how to support children and young people during this difficult time. The following is some simple advice about what to do if children and/or young people are feeling worried or concerned about the bushfires.

For adults in supporting children and young people
All children and young people will be coping with the bushfires in their own way, some children and young people may be more affected than others, however it is essential that we listen to children and young people and hear their worries and concerns.

Here are some practical tips to help adults when supporting children and young people about the bushfires:

1. Limit children and young people’s exposure to seeing imagery and hearing information about the bushfire. As the bushfires continue to dominate news across Australia and internationally, children and young people may be subject to repeated trauma from seeing and hearing the bushfire impact on the news, television, radio and social media and in everyday conversations between adults. Although we should be mindful not to hide the bushfire information from children and young people, we should try and limit their continuous exposure to seeing and hearing this traumatic imagery.

2. Remain calm and reassure the child or young person.Children and young people may feel scared, upset or even angry about what they are seeing and hearing about the bushfires. When speaking to children and young people about the bushfires it is best to be honest and tell children and young people the truth in an age-appropriate manner. As an adult it is also best to try and remain calm and reassure children and young people as they often mirror our emotions. If we, as adults are showing fear, this may be reflected by the child or young person. As adults, we can reassure children and young people by letting them know that they are safe and that they can talk to you anytime if they do not feel safe.

3. Help the child or young person to ‘name’ their feelings about the bushfires and feel comfortable in talking about their feelings. Speak to the child or young person about the current bushfires and tell them that you are listening. Encourage the child or young person to discuss how they are feeling, are they “scared”, “angry”, “upset” or “frightened”? When the child or young person tells you how they are feeling, validate their feelings saying that their feelings are normal and that it is okay to feel that way. Allow the child or young person to ‘sit’ with their feelings. Rather than rushing off to an activity or discussing a different topic allow some time for the child or young person to process their feelings, silence can be good!

4. Empower the child or young person. The bushfires may make children or young people feel disempowered as they feel like they cannot provide any help or support. Enable the child or young person to consider how they can help; this can lead to children and young people feeling more empowered. They may wish to donate food cans, undertake a fundraiser or help the community with the clear up operation. You can also tell children and young people of the positive work that is happening, such as the success of the firefighters and the compassion of the community who are donating time and money to support those who have been affected.

5. Build the child or young person’s resilience. Communicate with the child or young person that although things are not so good right now, and it may take a little bit of time for things to get better, it will get better. Encourage the child or young person to think positively – it may take sometime for the fires to stop, but they will stop. Discuss with the child or young person where they have experience other negative things in their life, and how things improved. By showing children and young people that they have coped with similar situations before, it can help build their resilience. You may also wish to talk to the child or young person about being prepared for bushfires and discussing their own bushfire safety plan.

6. Support the child or young person. During crisis, children and young people who receive strong emotional support will be more resilient in bouncing back from the bushfire crisis. Continue to provide support for the child or young person during the upcoming months, or help the child or young person to find help from a qualified counsellor if they are continuing to struggle. Where possible, try and get the child or young person back into a routine. Routines and boundaries help children and young people to feel safe.

For children and young people who are worried about the bushfires

During this bushfire crisis, you may be feeling worried, sad or unsafe. It is natural to feel worried after hearing and seeing some of the scary and upsetting information about the bushfires, but you do have the right to be and feel safe.

Here are some simple tips which may help you if you are feeling worried or unsafe:
1. Share your feelings with an adult who you trust – this could be a family member, a coach or a Y Person.
2. Write down your feelings in a mood journal – you could be feeling sad, angry, upset or frightened.
3. Find out more information about what is happening in the bushfires. Speak with an adult you trust and ask them to explain what is happening and talk to them on how you can keep each other safe.
4. Think about some of the ways you can help – this could be supporting your friends, raising some funds for the bushfire relief or even helping in the clearing up after the bushfires.
5. Keep saying that it will get better – although it may be a sad time, things will improve and get better.
6. Speak to the Kids Helpline if you cannot speak with a trusted adult – you can call them on 1800 55 1800.

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