Charities unite to help bushfire affected communities during the COVID-19 pandemic

Posted on May 25, 2020, 4:50 pm

As bushfire-affected communities now find themselves in isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF Australia, Royal Far West and HP have joined forces to provide help and support using mental health services delivered via technology (RFW Telecare), while continuing to provide community visits when it is safe to do so.

UNICEF Australia has partnered with RFW to provide the expertise to deliver mental health support services made possible by a $1.2 million donation from Carnival Corporation Chairman, Micky Arison, through his family foundation. This year, RFW’s technology partner HP pledged to donate $250,000 worth of essential technology to help students and schools affected by bushfire in NSW get back on their feet.

“This program of work is tremendously significant and important to us,” Tony Stuart, CEO of UNICEF Australia, said.

“These compounded disasters have placed enormous pressure on children and young people in bushfire-affected areas, and this work will enable meaningful assistance which will not only help support them through this extremely difficult time, but their families and communities as well, Mr Stuart said.

Over the next 18 months, mental health & psychosocial support will be rolled out across 8 regions and covering 25 communities. The program will include group sessions to more than 500 children, and individualised child therapy to at least 50 children. It will help equip them with coping skills, problem solving, and decision-making, as well as knowledge to understand and manage the changes they experience as the result of a natural disaster.

The program will also entail support, education and training for 1,600 parents, carers, educators, health professionals and community members to support them in building the resilience of their children. In-community visits will take place when it is safe to do so. The services will be delivered by a team of highly trained clinicians from RFW, with deep expertise across the areas of trauma, family support, professional development, upskilling, community engagement and telehealth.

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated our transition from face-to-face to virtual therapy services. We have put together a highly skilled, dedicated team to lead this work. Together with our partners, UNICEF Australia and HP, we are here for the long haul to stand with these communities as they rebuild their resilience and hope,” Lindsay Cane AM, CEO Royal Far West, said.

Consultation is occurring with Education representatives and communities to identify those schools & pre-schools in need of online learning tools, telehealth and other essential services. Donations of laptops, monitors, printers, and accessories for receiving support at school will begin rolling out in the coming months.

Ken Maher, Director of Personal Systems at HP Australia and New Zealand, said: “We first founded the HP Kids Fund initiative because we believe in ensuring Aussie kids – no matter their socioeconomic status – receive equal opportunity to flourish in a world increasingly driven by technology. Now, in the wake of the recent bushfires, there are a lot of classrooms and kids in our communities that are without access to essential learning tools.”

Research into the impact of bushfire suggests that at 26 months, 30 per cent of children experience significant post fire distress. Such an experience can have a devastating long-term impact on a child’s emotional wellbeing, especially if they are not provided with the right support to process what they’ve been through in the days, weeks and months following a disaster.

This mental health program was developed following a comprehensive needs assessment undertaken by UNICEF Australia & RFW, in addition to extensive research on existing best practice models around trauma and natural disasters in Australia and overseas.