Advocacy, Childhood, Environments, Nature Play, Outdoors, Professionalism

#australianfires – Supporting Children and Families

Last night it rained. It didn’t rain for long – perhaps ten minutes in total, but it rained. It has been so long since that pitter-patter sound was heard on our roof that my children cheered. 
“It’s finally raining!” they said. 

We are in a coastal area on level one water restrictions. Our “grass” resembles crunchy straw, and we took water play off the menu at home when our rainwater tank ran dry around two months ago. But we are not in the worst of it.  We have family out west who are running out of water. Our friends have a farm and have been hand feeding and selling off sheep for months, trucking in water to keep those that remain alive while their dam sits dry and cracked. 

And now, just when we thought that our country couldn’t take anymore, we have been ravaged by fire. There are currently over 130 fires burning in New South Wales alone and there is no real end in sight. The images being shown across the world are heartbreaking – lives lost, families fleeing and wildlife decimated. For those not directly in the fire zones, there may be a feeling of helplessness. What do we do? How do we help? How do we support those affected? 

There have been amazing stories of kindness and hope emerging during this horrific time. There are fundraising campaigns, food and supply collections, and people sewing pouches for joeys, and mittens for Koalas. 

What can we do as an early childhood community?
There is no escaping the stories, images and general sense of sadness that is sweeping our country. Children in fire-affected areas are experiencing trauma – let’s not downplay that. Some of them will have seen, heard and felt the unimaginable in the last few weeks.
They may have lost their homes.
They may have seen their parents weep. 
They may have sheltered on a beach, or in a hall, or in the homes of relatives, not really understanding why they were there. 
They may have lost their pets. 
They may have lost a loved one. 

As for the children in areas not directly affected, while they may not be faced with these immediate experiences, they are no doubt impacted by what they are seeing in the news, or hearing in their community. 

While we can advocate for limited access to the twenty-four-hour news cycle (which many experts recommend for children), it is impossible to truly escape what is happening to our country.
There is no doubt that children will want to talk about the bushfires.
There is no doubt that these themes will appear in their play. ‘
There is no doubt that some children will feel worry or fear more strongly than others. 

There have been some wonderful posts online and articles sharing ways in which we can support children and families. As early childhood services, we are in a position to make a difference. Here are just a few things that we can do: 

– Provide a safe space (and your full attention) for children (and families) to share their worries, experiences, and understandings
– Provide materials for children to represent these (e.g. art materials, loose parts, small world play) 
– Assist children to help in the ways that they want to. Many children will have suggestions for how to help – embrace these and bring their ideas to fruition where possible.
– Set up an initiative like a “community pantry” or clothing exchange to allow families to support one another.
– Act as a collection point for donations of supplies to send to those affected. 
– For families who have been directly affected by fire – support them to access the Temporary Financial Hardship Subsidy. 

There are many things we can do. Creating a strong sense of community within our services is vital for strengthening relationships and for ensuring that children and families feel loved, supported and safe.



Nicole Halton

Nicole Halton is the co-founder of Inspired EC. She is the author of several early childhood books, an advocate for children's rights and a mum to three.