Health, education and disaster experts share insights into building resilience in children
Experts in disaster recovery and resilience will lead a panel discussion this week for parents and teachers about supporting the mental health and wellbeing of children in their care during bushfire recovery and pandemic restrictions.
Held by the University of Melbourne on Thursday, 18 June at 4pm, panellists will explore the potential impact of the Victorian and New South Wales bushfires and coronavirus (COVID-19) on children, particularly those living regionally, and provide practical advice on how to create supportive communities and build resilience.
Co-hosted by Professor Shitij Kapur, Dean of the Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences and Professor Jim Watterston, Dean of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, parents, teachers, allied health professionals and young people are encouraged to join the one-hour event via Zoom.
Panellists include chief investigator of the landmark Beyond Bushfires study, Professor Lisa Gibbs; Director of the Youth Research Centre, Professor Helen Cahill; Director of Clinical Services at Phoenix Australia Ms Jane Nursey and Head of Emergency at Australian Red Cross, Andrew Coghlan.
Experts say the past six months has been overwhelming for many Australians, particularly those in regional areas who have had first-hand experience of the catastrophic bushfire season, followed immediately by the COVID-19 pandemic that has upended routines – especially for families and children.
“Exposure to disasters and the many disruptions that happen in the months and years afterwards can have long-lasting effects on children, families and school communities. We are using our research to identify both risk and protective factors,” Professor Gibbs said.
Ms Nursey said children will respond to these events differently and many will be able to adjust over time, especially with family and school support. “Others with more severe and lasting reactions will benefit from the support of mental health professionals,” Ms Nursey said.
Experts will be joined by previous principal of a school destroyed in the Black Saturday bushfires, Ms Janette Cook, along with young people with recent and past experience of bushfires.
"Educators are on the front line of recovery from major crises as they know their students, can identify changes in their behaviour that may require attention and through their teaching can assist students to better understand and process their experiences," Professor Watterston said.
Professor Cahill agreed, noting: “Research tells us that school-based social and emotional learning programs, including arts-based interventions, can help students to prepare for and recover from disasters.”
Professor Jane Gunn, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Medicine Dentistry and Health Sciences, is originally from rural Victoria and understands the special problems and needs of such communities.
“Complex problems related to recovery need insights from a combination of perspectives,” Professor Gunn said.
“This is why meeting with communities is important – with parents and carers, children and teachers and community leaders. As researchers, we are here to respond to the community, and we invite people to intertwine strands of memories, experiences and stories as a pathway to healing.”
The panel discussion will be followed by a Q&A in which audience members are invited to share their challenges, concerns and on-the-ground experiences.
Registration for this free event is now open. http://go.unimelb.edu.au/6xnj