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Looking after our children and young people in an emergency

When a disaster strikes, children and young people need special attention. Some children are more vulnerable than others, and require more targeted support to help them recover from any immediate trauma, and continue to recover well in the medium and longer term.

VCOSS has produced a set of recommendations for the Victorian Government to consider, contained in the Children and Young People – Emergency Management Roundtable key findings and recommendations April 2014.

It was once common to brush aside children and young people’s needs after a disaster, with the common wisdom being that they would ‘soon forget all about it’. Victoria’s recent history of disasters has taught us that this is not the case. Children don’t just ‘forget all about it’ and they have different needs to adults in emergency response and recovery planning.

The Victorian Government has produced a new guide — Emergency management planning for children and young people: Planning guide for local government. The guide sets out some basic ideas for helping local government to include children when planning for emergencies. We understand there is more government work underway to further help emergency managers to include a focus on the needs of children and young people.

In 2013, VCOSS sought to support this process by convening a Children and Young People – Emergency Management Roundtable. With community sector and local government representatives, along with mental health professionals, we drew on lessons learnt about the support and services children and young people need during and after an emergency event.

The Roundtable participants agreed that a comprehensive framework was needed to support children and young people through immediate trauma, as well as meeting their medium to longer term psychosocial recovery needs. Specific provisions also need to be made for vulnerable children, including those children and young people who are in out-of-home care, or are the children of refugees and migrants.

Participants also recommended that assessment of psychosocial impacts on children and young people takes place at the local community, family and individual levels, as well as the distribution of information on the needs of children and young people following a disaster, to those who will be working with them. This can include mental health professionals, crisis and intervention service workers, case managers and other public health and community sector staff, teachers, aides, counsellors, social workers, volunteers, and families themselves.

There was also a need identified for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to work together with the emergency management sector and local community organisations to integrate programs and services before, during and after an emergency.

Including the needs of children and young people in Victoria’s emergency planning, response and recovery services is the next step to ensuring we respond in the best possible way, for the best possible outcomes, when disasters or emergencies strike.

You can read the full Children and Young People – Emergency Management Roundtable key findings and recommendations April 2014 report here.