19 August 2022

Nation-first project seeks to understand impact of bushfire on young children

| Albert McKnight
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australian rural fire truck in front of bush fire

A new study aims to understand the impact bushfires have on young children. Photo: Stuart_Shaw.

A nation-first project, conducted in the wake of the horrifying Black Summer bushfires, will seek to understand and reduce the impact of fire emergencies on young children.

Once the Community Protection for Infants and Young Children in Bushfire Emergencies Project is completed, it will be used to help organisations and families in the Eurobodalla develop bushfire plans for these vulnerable members of their shire.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA), which is running the project, is calling for those affected by the 2019-2020 fire disaster to help with their research and believes the project will also benefit families across the country.

“Eurobodalla will become a model for local governments and community organisations across Australia to ensure that the children of the future are protected in disasters,” ABA’s breastfeeding information and research senior manager Naomi Hull said.

She said it would develop emergency response training for the protection of babies and young children around natural emergencies.

“They are society’s most vulnerable, and after the horror experiences of the Black Summer bushfires, where babies were the last to be evacuated from Mallacoota, it is vital that future emergency planning prioritises solutions for their most basic human needs,” Ms Hull said.

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The ABA said that during the Black Summer, poor evacuation centre facilities resulted in caregivers who were bottle feeding needing to wash bottles in toilet sinks.

Also, some families left centres because of concerns about child safety with animals there.

The Eurobodalla was one of the worst-hit regions in the Black Summer bushfires, which destroyed 501 homes, damaged another 274 and burnt 79 per cent of the shire.

More than 500 people had registered for assistance from the shire’s recovery support service by the end of 2020.

“Involvement in the project will bring something positive from that experience,” local GP and ABA’s Eurobodalla group leader Dr Michelle Hamrosi said.

“Looking to the future, our children and families will be better protected if another bushfire comes, and so will families across Australia.”

A 2013 report by Save the Children titled Don’t leave me alone. stated there was no standard practice in emergency management planning for the unique needs of children in Australia.

It also found the needs of animals were considered in planning far more than the needs of children.

In 2019, an audit of Australian emergency plans around the feeding of children found “there was a dearth of planning at all levels of government for the needs of infants and young children”.

The audit, published by journal BMC Public Health, stated the lack of planning for the feeding of young children placed them at serious risk of adverse health consequences in emergencies and urged governments to take action.

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The ABA’s new project has been funded by the Australian Government and is the first of its kind in Australia and only the second worldwide.

Research is now underway to collect the experiences of families with young children, as well as the emergency responders who helped them, during the bushfires.

Parents or caregivers of children aged between zero and four as well as emergency responders who were impacted by the Black Summer bushfires and want to be part of this study can visit its website for more information.

They will need to complete a survey that is expected to take between 30 and 40 minutes.

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