Join the conversation – Supporting children after natural and human-induced disasters

Join the conversation – Supporting children after natural and human-induced disasters

7 August 2019
A family in the park

This webinar discussed how practitioners can help children and families navigate the different stages of community trauma.

Please post your comments and questions below.

A full recording of the webinar and related resources, including slides, audio and a transcript, is now available.

The full recording of the webinar is also available on our YouTube Channel.

Like individuals, communities can experience trauma in the aftermath of natural or human-induced disaster. In Australia, climate change, family and community violence and rural disadvantage may increase the frequency and impact of traumatic events for communities.

When a community mobilises to recover from the effects of trauma, it is important not to overlook the specific needs of children. Children depend on the adults around them for safety and security. In the event of a disaster, they will need reassurance, care and opportunities to share their stories. This webinar provides a starting point for practitioners to help children and families navigate the different stages of a disaster.

This webinar described specific interventions that cater for the developmental needs of children recovering from community trauma. It presented findings from research on what helps children to recover, and provided case studies from the field.

This webinar supports practitioners to:

  • prepare children and their families practically and psychologically for a disaster
  • interact with children during an event in a way that may enhance their resilience and recovery
  • support children and their families immediately after an event as they re-establish a sense of safety
  • support children and their families in the ongoing recovery process
  • understand the importance of self-care during and after a traumatic event
  • identify emotional and behavioural difficulties in children that may indicate that ongoing, specialised support is required.

This webinar was co-produced by CFCA and Emerging Minds. They are working together as part of the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health, which is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Program.

Emerging Minds logo

Related resources

Featured image: © GettyImages/monkeybusinessimages


I read a study about the children of the Sandy Hook shooting 'playing' out their trauma, the teachers and adults were quite shocked to learn that the children soon after were replaying events in their games to work through the trauma (sometimes they would win, for e.g ambulances would come and fix the hurt people, others they would lose) is there place for 'play therapy' from adults in helping children integrate their experience of the disaster?
Play is sometimes adaptive coping and at other times seems maladaptive. Channeling the oportunity to express the inner world in a safe way is very helpful. Sometimes the play becomes stuck and repetitive and this would indicate some therapeutic assistance would be helpful. There is a great video with Andrea Murray talking about the role of story and play and how to move children on supportively if they get stuck in their play:
Nicola Palfrey ...
We work with refugee families, and in many situations we a re faced with families where children (15-25) are taking more responsibilities in the family due to many reasons. We want to know how does that change support framework re parents vs children
Finding the balance between agency and responsibility is difficult. In a natural disaster context, support, agency, communication and shared vision are all protective and recovery needs. Those who have faced adversity before may be enabled by post traumatic growth or at greater vulnerability. I think the support framework is always physical and psychological saftey that begins where the client is at. Recognising and working with young people around their roles within the family is essential to making sure children and young people feel included and listened to. There is no point telling children not to take on adult responsibilities if this is the reality of their life, it will simply alienate them. Rather supporting them in this is alway the best approach.
Nicola Palfrey ...
Thank you for putting forward this webinar. One of the concerns I have is that we are staring down the face of serious and ongoing climate crisis. As a result we can expect the experience of cumulative trauma, such as that affecting Indigenous communities, is likely to be much more widespread. There is a need to prepare communities on this basis and to focus on community connections. Do you have any thoughts on this?
The research indicates that due to climate change the number of natural and chronic disaster conditions will only increase. The Community Trauma Toolkit we have developed is in recognition of this and aims to support communities to connect, prepare and recover as well as they can in these difficult circumstances. Absolutely vital to this is community connection, particularly for children and families.
Nicola Palfrey ...
Is there anything specific you would do differently between a natural disaster and a human-induced disaster e.g. mass shooting, or witnessing the aftermath of a parental completed suicide?
There is some thought provoking reading in the most recent issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress which speaks to the dimension of moral injury in trauma. People perpetrated events are often seen as a betrayal and are more personal. Hallmarks of incidents that are potentially traumatic is the challenge to our assumptive world. What would I do differently? Well my experience of recovery post Bourke St and Flinders St incidents here in Melbourne was that we don't have the same ability to identify those exposed as we do in natural disasters. So impact assessment is less contained. System strategies are more difficult in people pertrated events. Disclosure of subjective impact is also different. People perpetrated events seem to engenger a solitary response as opposed to collective. So enabling a coming together, as we did post Bali bombings, would be one thing I'd do differently. The sense that children make of human-led incidents is different clearly than a natural disaster. Adults are also shocked and distressed by one person's capacity to do harm. Conversations around this shock and perspective, i.e. how good most people are can help re-establish a senes of scale as children can believe these frightening incidents and 'bad people' are everywhere or the majority if we don't help them put it in perspective.
Nicola Palfrey ...
How can we explain to other children in a centre about supporting strategies for their friends?
Teaching children active listening, protective interrupting and safety for self are core skills in supporting the supporters, be they adults or children
Nicola Palfrey ...
To what degree is gratitude to children who do have the skills to help? To avoid any extension of the parentification process? p.s. That is, for those children who may already be parentified?
Acknowledgement and validation are key for everyone, so are boundaries. Self care applies to parentified actions too
Nicolas Palfrey...
What do you think are the key research priorities going forward?
Infants, restoring parenting, impact on developmental trajectory and interventions, kids with special needs and evidence informed interventions. Long term recovery research.
Nicola Palfrey ...
Hi there. Any comments or insights regarding difference in practice response for those children in families open to the department, or cases in which trauma and abuse have already occurred?
I think a trauma sensitive approach is appropriate and indicated for all families impacted by community trauma events, and of course especially those with existing or previous experiences of complex trauma.
Nicola Palfrey ...
how do you start engaging with the children in disaster area?
siti rohmanatin
Work through community recovery structures and agencies. Have up to date professional knowledge. Look at doing the APS disaster practice certification.
Nicola Palfrey ...

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