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NSW faced “once-in-100-year flood”

15 April 2021, Impact of Our Work

Child Friendly Spaces help kids cope as thousands evacuated from disaster zone

Heavy rainfall in March led to flooding in NSW so extreme it was described by the NSW Premier as a “one-in-100-year” event. The Australian government declared many parts of the east coast a disaster zone as the floods forced 18,000 people to evacuate. 

On the NSW mid-coast, the local council asked Save the Children to provide a Child Friendly Space in the Taree Recovery Centre to support children and young people who had been impacted by the floods. 

The Child Friendly Space was active for three days, welcoming children aged from 10 months to 11 years old and giving them an opportunity to play and just be kids in a safe and supported environment.

Save the Children staff Sheree Agostino, Marie Rehaut and Maja Coles set up the Child Friendly Space with activities and toys for children in Taree.
Photo: Save the Children Australia

One family’s story

Team leader Sheree Agostino recalls one family who visited the centre but appeared very shaken up and were reluctant to be separated. 

The whole family sat clinging to each other, and I noticed that none of the children were wearing shoes.

Sheree Agostino

After some time, the children became relaxed and showed interest in the Child Friendly Space. Sheree approached the family and invited the children into the space.

Allowing kids to be kids can help the whole family start to recover

“The children jumped up and entered with such excitement, all rushing in at once and exploring each activity,” Sheree said. 

“Mum went to meet with services in the recovery centre while dad remained watching the children from outside. As he watched them relax, he started to relax too and opened up about their traumatic experience and how they had lost everything – all clothes, toys, and shoes, and were temporarily staying in a hotel room. I was able to connect him with another service to provide shoes and clothing for the children.”

The compounding trauma of floods following fires

Taree is one of several NSW communities affected by the recent flooding that were also hit hard by the Black Summer bushfires. Save the Children provided Child Friendly Spaces in Taree and other affected communities in NSW and Victoria to support children during in the immediate aftermath of the fires.

Save the Children can establish Child Friendly Spaces within 48 hours of a disaster, deploying specialist staff trained in providing psychosocial support to children. Child Friendly Spaces are dedicated spaces that give children a place to play, learn and receive emotional support in the immediate wake of a disaster. Activities might include drawing, singing and dancing, sports, doing puzzles and playing games, and story time. They also give parents an opportunity to sort out their homes and livelihoods, knowing their children are in safe hands.  

“One of the hardest things people face during or after an emergency is feeling like everything is out of their control,” says Sheree. “Through our work, we try to help them take them back some of that control by creating space for their children to relax and play, which also gives parents the opportunity to start putting their lives back together. For them, being able to see that their children can still laugh and have fun can be a tremendous comfort.”

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