Children, Youth & Disasters

Attributed to Emerging Minds Community trauma toolkit - Emerging Minds

Attributed to QLD Health Department-  qld health birdie and disaster - YouTube

Children and youth are significantly affected by disasters, and the risks to the youngest members of our communities will continue to increase.

 

Before, during, and after a disaster, children and youth are vulnerable and may not be able to act on decisions that adults can make.   In a disaster, many children and youth experience real-time and ongoing disruptions, at school, home, and other places.   Many are at risk to separation from loved ones, long-term displacement, injury, illness, and even death.    In disaster planning, there is often an assumption that parents will protect their children in a disaster event, and yet children are often separated from their parents when they are at school, childcare, home alone, with friends, or at work.  In rural communities, parents are often separated by large geographical distances, additionally, roads may be blocked and it may be unsafe to re-unite.  Children do not have the resources or independence to prepare for disasters, so they are often reliant on adults to make evacuation decisions, heading to a secure shelter, and providing themselves resources.    After a disaster, children may have difficulty articulating their distress to adults. 

 

Preparing your children prior to a disaster is extremely important.   https://www.childrens.health.qld.gov.au/natural-disaster-recovery/.   Birdies Tree has a series of books that every young child should read and learn.  Series of books to read online and supported by the QLD Government, Health Department, https://www.childrens.health.qld.gov.au/chq/our-services/mental-health-services/qcpimh/natural-disaster-resources/storybooks/

 

Having the 5 step conversation with your children will assist in recognising and helping them through the disaster.  https://theconversation.com/bushfires-can-make-kids-scared-and-anxious-here-are-5-steps-to-help-them-cope-126926

 

Toni Noble discusses the 5 steps: “Here are five steps to encourage your children to do this:

  1. take notice when your child is feeling sad, frightened, angry or upset

  2. encourage your child to talk about what’s troubling them, and listen and show you understand how they are feeling

  3. name the emotion in words your child can understand – are they “worried”, “scared”, “a bit frightened” or “sad”?

  4. help your child understand it’s normal to feel that strong emotion and help them to sit with their feelings

  5. finish with a hopeful or optimistic statement they can do something to help make things feel better. This may include something physical (such as going for a walk or throwing a basketball through a hoop), something that creates positive feelings (like playing with a pet or friend, or drawing), or doing something kind or helpful for someone else.

 

To help your child bounce back, you can communicate that:

  1. life is mainly good but now and then everyone has a difficult or unhappy time

  2. although things aren’t good now and it might take a while to improve, it’s important to stay hopeful and expect things to get better

  3. you will feel better and have more ideas about what to do if you talk to someone you trust about what’s worrying or upsetting you

  4. unhelpful thinking (“our family will never get a nice home again”) isn’t necessarily true and makes you feel worse

  5. helpful thinking (“it might take a while to get our home back again but it will happen”) makes you feel better because it is more accurate and helps you work out what to do.”

 

While a disaster can be challenging for children, a supportive home and school environment, together with coping skills, can help children recover reasonably quickly and get back to normal life.

 

Emerging Minds (predominantly looking after children under the age of 12), provides valuable resources https://emergingminds.com.au/resources/toolkits/community-trauma-toolkit/

 

Information sheets for parents (great documents by the NSW Health Department)

Children withAutism

Preparing your child with Autism for a disaster or emergency. It will seem daunting as a parent with a child that has autism to think and prepare for a natural disaster and emergency. 

It is important to keep your entire family safe during a disaster or emergency, especially where time is strained.  A child with autism may have food, light, and time management sensitivities.   If you do not have the ability to obtain food for a few days, you will have to have contingency plan in place for your child with autism.

Even though it is daunting, if you take small steps and prepare, it will ease the time and ability to concentrate on your whole family.   When you are normally at home, out and about or even holidaying, you have set principles in place, and an emergency or disaster is no different, it may certainly have extra stresses but applying those principles in your everyday life would be similar.  By keeping your routine and providing comfort and good communication, it will help your child with autism avoid meltdowns which may cause many delays in your normal disaster plan.

A different plan is required for a child with autism
Knowing the disasters that may occur, such as drought, fire, floods, storms, extreme heat and pandemics is important.  Even the survival pack and go kit requires extra consideration.  We suggest that you create a 72-hour survival bag for your child with autism.  If your child is old enough, it is important to include your child in the packing preparation.  By having a backpack, it is easier for your child to carry it and maintain a sense of security, knowing that they have their safety pack with them.  

In addition to the normal pack and go kit, consider these items:
1.    Food sensitivities and allergies, introduce your child to non-perishable food, therefore when they are in an emergency or disaster situation, they are not being forced to have items that were never a part of their diets or familiar to them.
2.    Packing sensory items such as headphones, clothes, sunglasses that would help familiarity.
3.    Make sure that items you are packing in the pack and go bag are items that your child feels are an extension of their home.
4.    Consider your child’s triggers and what will help them cope that fits in their backpack. 
5.    A lot of children now are comforted by ipad’s, dvd players and games therefore make sure you have extra batteries and or solar chargers.  Make sure you place a couple of entertainment items that they don’t get bored off too easily and it is not too challenging where they are demanding your attention.
6.    Sometimes it is fun and comforting to pack glow stick bracelets or necklaces as this helps in the dark and it may comfort the child.
7.    Create a baggage tag that includes your contact info, family photo and a few points about what triggers your child, this helps first responders and or people that are assisting in understanding your child a little better.

 

There are a lot of different possibilities, talk to your child’s social worker in advance to assist you further, any help to prepare for your child is a bonus, it will not completely stop the possibility of the situation becoming overwhelming for your child, but it will help ease the situation.  It is extremely important to create practice drills throughout the year, the more familiar your child is with the possibility of a disaster or emergency, it will become their routine.  Make sure your child is familiar with people in your community, especially organisations or emergency services personnel that would assist in your area.

By practicing ahead, you can take it one step at a time. Walk through the evacuation routes a few times. Explain how lights will probably go out, allow them to kill the lights and take the familiar evacuation route you have taught them. Ease into this while educating as best as possible. Practicing also allows you to know what they will have the biggest issues with, be it sights, sounds or movement. This will help you make the proper changes to your emergency plans and test them before it is necessary to really evacuate.
 

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