UNICEF Australia steps up bushfire response helping kids get back to school

UNICEF Australia is stepping up their response to the bushfire crisis by helping kids get back to school, and supporting their recovery over the longer term (Image Credit: UNICEF/Davey/AFPServices)

The children’s charity UNICEF Australia today announced a major step-up in its response to the current devastating bushfire crisis, working with partners to provide affected children with a back-to-school package in time for the new school year, as well as supporting children’s recovery and rehabilitation over the longer term.

This has been made possible thanks to a AUD$1.2 million donation from Carnival Corporation Chairman, Micky Arison, through his family foundation.

The Micky and Madeleine Arison Family Foundation contribution will go immediately to a student bushfire relief program to help children whose families have lost their homes in Victoria and New South Wales. Once the immediate crisis is contained, it will also be used to help affected children to recover from trauma and distress through the provision of targeted mental health support – an essential foundation for children’s readiness to learn. Importantly, the donation will help to ensure that affected young people are involved in shaping responses to future disaster events.

UNICEF Australia CEO, Tony Stuart, said the Arison family’s welcome and generous donation will provide timely and practical support for the specific back-to-school needs of children, including uniforms, school shoes, textbooks and electronic learning devices.

UNICEF Australia is addressing a critical need by placing children at the centre of its response to the bushfire crisis both in the immediate relief efforts, and throughout the longer process of recovery and rehabilitation. “In two short weeks, children will be heading back to school – but for some of the most fire affected children this will be a challenge having lost all their possessions”, said Mr Stuart.

“Getting them back to school is only the start. Many children will be deeply affected by trauma and their ability to learn and fully participate will hinge on whether they are adequately supported to heal and recover.”

The team at UNICEF Australia is collaborating with local partners to target an immediate relief package for school children.

“Working with partners such as the State Schools Relief in Victoria, UNICEF Australia can have a direct impact with only a few weeks to go before school resumes,” said Mr. Stuart. “In order to assist those children who have been particularly devastated by the fires, we will be providing back to school packages targeted to those families who have lost everything.

“We know from our work in emergencies around the world that this type of targeted support is crucial to help children who have lived through disasters.”

UNICEF Australia’s response also includes supporting recovery. The bushfires have primarily affected rural and remote communities where specialist mental health services are often not available. We will work with partners to help address this gap and ensure that affected children receive appropriate psycho-social and mental health support, which we know is critical to their long term recovery. UNICEF Australia will support the deployment of a range of clinical specialists to address this gap via its partnerships with providers, such as Royal Far West.

“Through a partnership with Royal Far West, UNICEF Australia will enable the targeted deployment of mobile, multi-disciplinary, in-community mental health support teams to reach children and their families in 25 small and regional communities affected by the fires,” Mr. Stuart said.

This deployment will consist of a team of clinical professionals – including an occupational therapist, a clinical child psychologist, and social workers – who will attend affected communities in a customised mobile van, to provide trauma support and other child and family support services to help recovery. Following consultations with the team and local communities, children may also be referred to Royal Far West’s specialised trauma-informed residential and/or telecare programs.

“Another critical focus of this initiative is to help increase resilience and to build capacity into the future, by providing parents, carers, teachers and health professionals with focused training and support to foster the ongoing healing, recovery and resilience of children,” said Mr. Stuart.

This targeted support program for children is scheduled to commence when the more relief-oriented efforts are completed. The program is estimated to reach more than 2000 people. This will include direct psychosocial support for 500 children. Approximately 100 of the children most in need will receive additional follow up mental health support. Around 1600 parents, carers, teachers and health professionals will receive focused training and support.

Importantly, UNICEF Australia’s bushfire response will provide the opportunity for young people to participate in and contribute to response, recovery and rehabilitation by coming together, sharing their experiences and working together to help frame solutions for future disaster events.

For donations to the UNICEF Australia Bushfire & Drought Response, visit www.unicef.org.au/appeals/bushfire