Kids bushfire recovery funding dries up

04 April 2021

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AUSTRALIA – Money for a program that helps children who have been traumatised by the Black Summer bushfires is set to run out by June.

The Bushfire Recovery Program is run by charity Royal Far West in NSW across 22 schools and 11 preschools.

“We’ve seen kids being incredibly anxious, very withdrawn, very quiet, but in other circumstances children are lashing out, having meltdowns and refusing to go to school,” spokeswoman Jacqui Emery told AAP.

She said many of the children who suffered the worst trauma from the fires are those who were already vulnerable.

“We’re seeing examples of self harm and even suicidality – and this is in primary school children,” she said.

Some communities have been traumatised by a string of disasters over many months, including drought, fire, COVID, and floods, Ms Emery said.

“Many kids live in a constant state of fight or flight at the moment … in some schools there is no learning going on.”

The program has helped more than 700 children aged under 12, by identifying traumatised individuals and providing customised long-term therapy, which could include social workers, psychologists, and occupational and speech therapists.

The program also provides support for teachers and parents who care for the kids who are struggling, covering the shires of Bega Valley, Clarence Valley, Glen Innes Severn, Nambucca Valley, Kempsey and Shoalhaven City.

It’s cost $1.5 million so far, with the money coming from philanthropic donations.

But this funding will run out by June, and Ms Emery said there are “no guarantees” her bids for government grants will come through.

Royal Far West has applied for a Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund grant that would fund the program until June 2023 and expand its services to help 1400 children and at least 1000 parents, teachers, and healthcare workers.

More than one in every six children in rural Australia experiences mental health issues, and rural families often contend with long travel times and waiting lists to get help.

Research shows the effects of trauma from natural disasters like bushfires may not emerge for up to three years after the event.

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