Black Saturday: Bushfire children face 'toughest year'

07 May 2012

published by www.northernweekly.com.au


Australia -- CHILDREN who survived the Black Saturday bushfires were struggling and this year would be the toughest for their recovery, according to secondary school counsellors.

As news broke of four suicides in as many weeks in Kinglake, Whittlesea Secondary College's student wellbeing manager Sue Muir said many students were doing it tough more than three years after the fires.

"Some of the bushfire-affected kids are ploughing along well, but I think the majority aren't," said Ms Muir, who has been in the role for 12 years.

"Some people are just travelling so badly. They're so disconnected from families and school. They're there in body but not in spirit."

Teenagers who had dealt with the bushfires easily in the first months and year were often not coping now, she said. Winter made people more isolated and vulnerable.

"We've got kids in the older years not completing school, and I know that that's bushfire-related."

At Diamond Valley College, student welfare co-ordinator and Kinglake resident James Anderson said: "I believe this is going to be our worst year.

"There does seem to be a rise in anxiety among the bushfire-affected kids. There are stages they go through. The rebuild and recovery has been stalled by building issues and that does affect the ability to move through grief."

Both schools have psychologists and expect to have bushfire-affected children in their

year 7 intakes for the next 10 years.

Whittlesea Secondary College principal Terry Twomey said the school had a staff member designated to watch attendance because skipping school was an initial symptom in those disengaged and at risk.

"Over recent years we've had more young people come in at year 7 who are fire-affected than we have had leave at year 12," he said.

"There's no doubt the indications of suicide [in Kinglake] are worrying and they show how important it is that we continue to support the young members of our community."

Deputy Premier and Minister for Bushfire Response Peter Ryan said last week that bushfire counselling services would be extended beyond the expected June 2012 cut-off.