Australia to assess mental health of children affected by floods

Following the devastating floods in southeast Queensland and the northern NSW rivers a year ago, Royal Far West and UNICEF Australia collaborated to conduct a needs assessment and community dialogue to understand better, meet, and advocate for the needs of children in these areas.

The needs assessment supports a broader appeal for children’s voices to be heard and considered throughout all catastrophe preparedness while focusing on the specific needs of these flood-affected communities.

The Australian Federal Government is funding a $4.5 million flood response program through Department of Health to deliver a program to support mental health of children under the age of 12 in 30 schools and preschools in flood-affected communities throughout Northern NSW and Southeast QLD. The needs assessment is the first phase of this program. The knowledge and skills of parents, caregivers, and educators will also be improved, enabling them to enhance the kids’ wellbeing under their supervision.

The schools where the wellbeing program will start, with services to begin later this term, have been identified thanks to the needs assessment completed in August last year. According to Royal Far West’s experience working with kids affected by them, children can suffer adverse effects for up to five years following catastrophic events. These effects are sometimes buried for a long time. This can significantly impact a child’s growth and course in life, especially if the appropriate support systems are not in place.

Since the 2020 Black Summer Bushfires, UNICEF Australia and Royal Far West have collaborated to prioritize kids’ needs in how we prepare for, respond to, and recover from significant catastrophes – an area typically disregarded. To ensure that sustained adverse effects on children are minimized, cascading disasters, such as the most recent Queensland bushfires, underline the significance of a long-term approach to supporting at-risk communities.

During the devastating and unprecedented floods that ravaged Northern NSW and Southeast QLD in February and March 2022, 22 individuals died, and an estimated 4,000 children in NSW alone needed assistance.

Some of the results contributing to this demand are children and families being uprooted, services being disrupted, and the worsening economic effects of months of missed business lost jobs, and lost animals and harvests. Jacqueline Emery, CEO of Royal Far West, says, “Many families remain unsure about their future, with the impact being felt most severely by those who had pre-existing vulnerabilities or experienced structural disadvantages before the flooding disasters.”

Children and young people must receive the appropriate help at the proper time when calamities occur. So they can easily access support services, continue their education, receive mental health counselling, have a safe place to stay and play in the immediate aftermath, and have their voices heard, young people within these devastated communities must have their needs tailored to during and after disasters.

This assessment shows that the floods have significantly impacted children’s lives and welfare in Northern NSW and Southeast Queensland. It is a welcome and essential investment to fund the flood response program to aid children in flood-affected communities in their recovery. The Australian Government must be ready to increase investments in child-sensitive disaster response, healing, and resilience-building measures across the nation as a result of climate change, according to Nicole Breeze, Chief Advocate for Children at UNICEF Australia.

Everyone in the community is affected by emergencies like these. Still, when Royal Far West and UNICEF Australia spoke with flood-affected communities, they discovered how seriously affected children’s education, mental health, and wellbeing have been, and that, for the most part, this has gone unnoticed.

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