Media Release 1 June 2010
Skylight support resources assist bushfire schools
On February 7, 2009, several bushfires ignite across the Australian State of Victoria. The devastating effects of Black Saturday and the days following, on land and property, become obvious in the numbers: 450,000 hectares of land engulfed by the fires, with over 3500 structures destroyed encompassing homes, commercial and community buildings including three schools.
Even more devastating however was the human toll: 173 deaths (the highest ever for an Australian bushfire and the eighth highest worldwide), 414 injured and over 7500 people displaced from their homes. Over 3500 firefighters were deployed to battle the blazes that occurred in temperatures over 45 degrees C and were fanned by winds of over 100 kmh. The Kinglake and Marysville areas were the hardest hit, with 159 of the fatalities in these areas of rural Victoria.
New Zealand assisted its neighbour in its time of need, including sending relief firefighting teams and forensic experts.
But beyond the initial rush of aid that often occurs after a disaster, there was a need to address the enduring issue of dealing with the after-effects of such an event. Innovative New Zealand grief and trauma support agency Skylight (www.skylight.org.nz) thought about how best to respond.
“We knew that the terrible bushfires deaths and destruction would cause pervasive distress and trauma in the lives of young and old alike, for a very long time. Whole communities were destroyed,” commented Tricia Hendry, Skylight’s Publishing and Retail Manager.
“We wanted to help in a practical way and offered what we had - proven support resources for young people to help them process trauma, loss and grief.”
They immediately gifted and sent over support booklets especially designed for children and teens, and those caring for them, facing very tough and traumatic times. These resources had already assisted many young New Zealanders and their families, offering very practical ways to help them process some of life’s most difficult situations.
In their on-going efforts to assist those in the affected areas, the Bushfire Psychosocial Recovery Unit of the Student Wellbeing Division of The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (Victoria) were looking for targeted resources that focused on dealing with trauma, grief and loss. They wanted to further support school communities (students, parents, Student Support Services Staff, teachers and other school staff) who were dealing with the still-strong echo of the events over a year ago.
Skylight was identified by Australian trauma, grief and loss experts as having some of the best resources available and an order was placed for Skylight to send four different titles, adapted with Australian information, for children, teens and carers to use. The Skylight team swung into action to quickly provide over 25,000 adapted resources.
Manager of the Bushfire Psychosocial Recovery Unit, Student Wellbeing Division, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (Victoria), Vicki Trethowan commented:
Skylight resources will be extremely useful in assisting and supporting our parents, teachers, children and adolescents with their healing journey. Schools are appreciative of the fact that there is a booklet (Understanding the Losses) that can assist parent understanding around child/adolescent loss and grief, a booklet that allows teachers to support children/adolescents with understanding their experience and the journey that follows.
In addition, workbooks (designed for those having a tough time) for children and adolescents who may require an extra level of support has provided excellent resources that allow individuals to work with an allied health professional or teacher.
The Skylight books complement other work being done to support those who have experienced loss. Simple, easy-to-understand and easy to use with children or teenagers, and making these resources available to school communities and Student Support Services Staff formed part of the ongoing psychosocial recovery process for these vulnerable groups.
“The support activity books When Tough Stuff Happens and Something Has Happened are brilliant,” said a Department of Education Social Worker based in the Hume region.
“They are so easy to use with children and they allow kids to express how they are feeling through fun activities.”
So even as the natural environment recovers and its scars are healed, the work continues to help heal the hearts and minds of young people involved in the devastating events of Black Saturday.
For more information, please contact:
Tel: 04 939 6761