The cumulative impacts of drought, floods and bushfires, compounded by the social and economic hardships caused by COVID-19  have hit regional NSW communities hard.  These successive disasters have taken their toll, not only on the community, but professionals who normally act as the backbone of recovery  are now reporting critical levels of stress and exhaustion.     

A new initiative to support the professionals who help children, families and communities to recover and heal from their experiences has received funding from the Bushfire Community Recovery and Resilience Fund project through the joint Commonwealth/State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements. 

MacKillop Seasons, already well established in the area for delivering programs to help communities cope with grief and loss, has received three separate grants of $290,000 each for NSW communities in the Northern, Southern and Blue Mountains Regions to deliver post-disaster change and loss education programs to support community recovery and resilience.   

A Community Resilience role has been established in each region to undertake an on the ground, school-led, long-term response. MacKillop Seasons’ Stormbirds and Seasons for Growth change and loss evidence-based education programs will be at the core of the response, building local capacity by working with teachers, counsellors, chaplains, and community members to support children and young people to make sense of their experience and provide a safe space for them to learn knowledge and skills to respond to their experience and realise ‘they are not alone’. 

Shawn Van Der Linden, Student Counselling and Welfare Manager at Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn has 56 schools with 21,000 students and 3500 staff across the region.   

“Many of our school communities have been both impacted by the 2019/20 bushfires and then COVID-19 and as a result have experienced additional stressors elevating the vulnerability and need for additional mental health and wellbeing support. I fully support this project and believe it will promote and support the Southern NSW community well-being, social and broader recovery and future disaster resilience following the bushfires,” Mr Van Der Linden said. 

Trained local professionals have expressed a strong desire to deliver the programs, but many are themselves dealing with fatigue and exhaustion caused by the cumulative impact of disasters and COVID-19 lockdowns and they need additional help. 

“We’ve never experienced the impact of this before”, said Fiona McCallum, General Manager of the Stormbirds and Seasons for Growth programs at MacKillop Seasons, “the unprecedented scale of the fires and the cumulative impact of the drought, floods and COVID-19 have challenged the usual response effort. We knew we had to find a new way to provide help and support.” 

“Experiencing disaster can impact people’s mental health and wellbeing both in the short and longer term. Importantly, the ongoing effects and the subsequent change and loss following disaster are often unseen."

“It is incredibly important for us to consider those in the community that have pre-existing levels of vulnerability, and that is why opportunities to provide early and additional interventions like this, are so very important. These grants will place valuable staff on the ground through to the March 2023 who will support local professionals to meet the needs of children and help them to thrive,” added Ms McCallum. 

The new Community Resilience role will work with trained local program facilitators to ensure the Stormbirds and Seasons for Growth programs reach the children and adults that need them most. The role will also identify and access support networks for additional health and wellbeing interventions. 

“The grants will help us to support the professionals who have taken on so much in recent years. It is an opportunity to grow the resilience of local communities and help children, families and communities to recover and become stronger, building their capacity to respond to future significant life events,” Ms McCallum said.