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Bushfire Appeal: Update on our response

12 May 2020, Impact of Our Work

Supporting kids hit by dual impacts of bushfires and COVID-19

Save the Children has been working hard to fulfil our commitment to support and protect children’s wellbeing and mental health in the aftermath of Australia’s devastating bushfires, while adapting to manage the impacts of COVID-19 and keep children, parents and our staff safe. 

Tens of thousands of children in Australia have been directly affected by the catastrophic 2019-20 bushfires that were unprecedented in their scale and severity. We know that in any emergency children are the most vulnerable, during the immediate crisis and afterwards. 

Children went through incredible hardship during the bushfires. Some were separated from parents who stayed back to fight the fires, others lost homes or pets. Many witnessed terrifying things and feared for their lives.

Matt Gardiner, Executive Director of Australian Services, Save the Children

In response, thousands of people around Australia and across the world, along with our corporate sponsors, supported Save the Children’s Bushfire Appeal, raising $2.4 million to help children impacted by the fires. 

Our response  

Our response to support the children and families impacted by the bushfire crisis has comprised an immediate emergency response, followed by medium and long-term work to support children to recover from what they’ve experienced.  

While the fires still raged, Save the Children set up 10 child-friendly spaces in evacuation, relief and recovery centres in NSW, Victoria and South Australia to provide respite to recently evacuated families. These provided a safe space for children to play, socialise and receive psychosocial support in the hours and days after the fires. The role of these child-friendly spaces in supporting children’s emotional wellbeing cannot be under-estimated and Save the Children has advocated for greater use of them in future crises, as outlined in our submission to the Bushfire Royal Commission.

Once the immediate emergency had passed and the relief centres closed, we continued to work with local authorities to deliver psychosocial support in the hardest hit areas. Our mobile outreach teams returned to communities after recovery centres had closed to make sure every child and family had access to ongoing support. 

We then moved to the final phase of our response; engaging with schools and regional authorities to plan delivery of our Journey of Hope program, which works with children whose long-term emotional recovery and wellbeing requires continued support, long after the fires have been extinguished. 

Journey of Hope 

Journey of Hope ensures the most heavily impacted children receive the support they need to process what they’ve experienced and mitigate the long-term effects that a disaster can have on a child’s development. The program helps children and caregivers cope with traumatic events, develop their natural resilience and strengthen their social support networks. The program is delivered through schools and implemented by trained facilitators to small groups of up to ten students. 

Devastatingly, just as communities had a chance to start rebuilding their lives, COVID-19 halted the recovery process and closed schools. To keep children and families safe, we were forced to pause our plans to deliver Journey of Hope until it can be delivered safely, and in line with advice from the State health authorities. 

For children already suffering potential trauma or other mental health-related issues from the bushfires, COVID-19 provides a huge additional layer of stress and uncertainty.

Catherine Harris, Director of Southern States, Save the Children.

To answer the additional challenge posed by COVID-19, we are adapting Journey of Hope so we can deliver the content online to children and parents. This innovative approach to program delivery is commencing in May. And when schools recommence, we will be there from Term 3 with the full face to face Journey of Hope program, ready to support children and help them gain the skills and resilience to bounce back from these disasters, and the next one, whatever it may be. 

COVID-19 has been difficult for families, but particularly those recovering from the fires – we’re working hard to make sure no child is left behind, and we’ll give families the confidence and tools they need to recover.

Danielle Brunton, Journey of Hope program manager

How we’ve allocated funds so far 

Save the Children raised about $2.4m for its bushfire response, primarily from corporate partners, governments and other Save the Children member countries, with a small amount (less than 5%) from the public.

As at end April 2020, we’ve spent $415,000 of our $2.4M total bushfire appeal funds on immediate services like child friendly spaces and outreach support, and upskilling our frontline workers. As at end April, we’ve reached over 1770 children and almost 300 parents and carers in 17 communities in NSW, Victoria and South Australia. 

The balance of our bushfire appeal funds will support wide-scale Journey of Hope implementation. Phase One will reach 4,500 children in bushfire affected communities, both online as well as face to face once schools re-open. This reflects what we’ve learnt from our extensive experience responding to disasters in Australia and around the world – that a major focus should be on addressing the long term mental health impacts of the fires that can last years for many children. 

All funds raised through our Bushfire Appeal will continue to go to our work helping children and parents affected by both the 2019/20 bushfires and now the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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