April 28, 2021

VCOSS Disaster Recovery Conversation series: Facilitating the voice of children and young people in disaster recovery.

On the 25th of February 2021, the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) hosted a webinar as part of their monthly series – Disaster Recovery Conversation. February’s event, Facilitating the voice of children and young people in disaster recovery, discussed recent research from the Australian bushfires and priority issues in emergency and disaster recovery for children and young people. The presentation included the following speakers:

  • Michelle Roberts – Director, Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma, Loss and Grief Network, Australian National University.
  • Di Fisher – Executive Officer, Uniting VicTas Gippsland.
  • Carla Hall – Rural Youth Projects Coordinator, Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) and Q

This session drew on the insights of:

  • Michelle Roberts and her twenty years of experience working with children and young people in the disaster recovery context. Informed by research published in Australia and the United States, Michelle challenged previous assumptions made about this population and their awareness of disaster events.
  • Di Fisher presented findings from a joint venture between Uniting and Plan International Australia evaluating the rights, participation and wellbeing of children and young people in bushfire recovery. This project conducted interviews with key informants in government and community service providers across East Gippsland.
  • Carla Hall demonstrated key considerations from the Youth-Focused Disaster Recovery Protocol designed for governments and services who engage with young people affected by a disaster. With the support of Carla and YacVIC, Quinn Obran is supporting youth-led bushfire recovery efforts in Corryong and is an advocate for the voices of young people in the disaster context.


Key Insights from this webinar

Infants and young children understand what is happening during a disaster event.

Research published in the United States studying adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) has demonstrated a life-changing impact can occur from experiencing four or more ACEs. This evidence challenges previous assumptions that infants and toddlers do not understand what is happening during a disaster event. ACEs are significantly associated with the young person’s neurological and physical development, attachment, psychological and social wellbeing. Integrating this knowledge into community preparedness practices and relief services supports a holistic recovery that considers the wellbeing and health of all family members.

Including the voices of young people is critical to their own recovery.

Community planning that includes investment in culturally relevant safe spaces and established local services for young people has been shown to promote recovery. Post-traumatic growth has been shown as an outcome to including young people in preparedness practices and the recovery and relief efforts. This can provide individuals with the opportunity to learn about their own ability and strengths during a challenging event. Findings from emerging research are highlighting the need for developing minds to understand the disaster event themselves and what it means to the people they depend on in order to start feeling safe, progress with their lives and be able to predict the world again. Young people makeup one fifth of the total population of Australia and funding for mental health services for this age group is not representative of their level of need.

Data from young people is key to informing effective disaster recovery.

Emerging studies are highlighting that considerations required in planning for disaster recovery for children and young people are multifaceted. Plan International and Uniting undertook a research project in early 2020 exploring the current state of the bushfire recovery in Gippsland for children and young people and how to ‘plan for the future’. There is real opportunity in facilitating the voices of children and young people in recovery when gathering data. The top sources of stress for those represented in the study were:

  • Isolation from peers
  • Psychosocial distress
  • Housing and accommodation
  • Isolation from community
  • Lack of recreational outlets and activities

Young people are leading the way in promoting community cohesion in disaster recovery.

Youth centres led by local youth workers have been providing culturally safe environments for individuals to process their experiences, connect, and become involved in the recovery effort. Organisations like YACVic provide opportunities for young people to be empowered, build leadership skills, and self-advocate. For example, YACVic has recently supported youth groups in Corryong working on bushfire recovery to identify available funding. This has resulted in youth-led recreational and social enterprises, with positive outcomes at both the community and individual level. Collaborating with local youth groups can facilitate relationship building, trust, and engagement when providing external disaster recovery services.

Webinar Resources

A video recording of this session is available to view via the VCOSS Youtube channel.

The VCOSS Disaster Recovery Conversation series provides an opportunity for leaders, staff and volunteers of community and social service organisations to network and gain access to in depth expert knowledge on topical issues relating to emergencies and disasters. VCOSS- is the peak representative body for Victoria’s social and community sector, and the state’s leading social advocacy organisation.

Uniting VicTas Gippslandhas a long history of service provision within East Gippsland focused on children, young people and their families.

Youth Affairs Council Victoria- (YACVic) is the peak body and leading policy advocate for young people and the youth sector in Victoria.

Additional Resources

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bushfire Recovery Victoria Victorian Government agency working directly with local communities to listen, help and deliver what they need.

Children and Young People’s Experience of Disaster Report 2020 Office of the Advocate for Children and Young People (NSW).

Delayed Disaster Impacts on Academic Performance of Primary School ChildrenUniversity of Melbourne.

Rapid Assessment and Theory of Change- resources to help inform current bushfire recovery efforts and future planning for disaster preparedness for children and youth (Uniting VicTas Gippsland and Plan International Australia).

Youth Focused Disaster Recovery Protocol- The Protocol establishes a framework for Federal, State and Local Government emergency and recovery services and committees, institutions, local youth services, youth workers and others who engage with young people in disaster affected areas.

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