Bushfires can devastate communities. There are the physical consequences, burnt out infrastructure, loss of homes and then there are the not so visible impacts – grief, depression and a profound sense of loss. For children the impact can be overwhelming, but they may struggle to articulate how they feel – the fear, the confusion, the concern for their parents – long after the fires have gone.
This is why Sharon Zweck, a school counsellor and Stormbirds Companion, is passionate about the Stormbirds program. She has seen first-hand the difference the program makes, particularly with its message that the journey to healing takes time.
“It’s important to provide children with a space to work through issues, where there is a safe space held for them. We create time,” Sharon said.
A key element of the program is its provision of support to children in a place they feel safe, such as their school.
“In school you can build on relationships, you have the ease of being able to follow up with the kids later on”.
Stormbirds teaches children the skillsets that can help them to see that there is a way through their grief, how to reframe what they have been through and how they can adapt. Sharon said that the structure of the program allowed her to step out of her counsellor role and be a guide for the children. It was a “beautiful way to work through issues, they loved the books and the group,” she said.
Often, after such disasters, several people in a family are affected, because the impacts are so widespread. Many parents have asked for continued support, overwhelmed themselves, they recognise a need for their children to have an opportunity to talk about their feelings.
From a counsellor’s perspective, Sharon says that the programs are extremely important.
“We’re able to catch those things that we miss because of all the other stuff going on. The program can be a good screening tool for future individual support, identifying kids that may most need counselling or other services.”
Being a Stormbirds Companion, for Sharon, has been extremely rewarding: “It’s an amazing journey being able to help people at a time that’s been extremely difficult for the children, their parents and the community as a whole,” Sharon said.
Nib Foundation generously provided MacKillop Family Services with funding to support the local communities of Eurobodalla and Bega on the south coast of NSW following the devastating impacts of the 2019/20 bushfires. This support has enable the Stormbirds and Seasons for Growth programs to reach approximately 3,000 children young people and adults in these communities.