Australia

Rights group says children were 'systematically overlooked' during Australian bushfires

Smoke over NSW in December. Source: AAP

Save the Children is calling for child-focused services when responding to future bushfire events, believing they were overlooked during last summer's crisis.

A child rights advocacy group believes children were "systematically overlooked" in the response to last summer's unprecedented bushfires.

In its submission to various inquiries into the response to the bushfires, including a royal commission, Save the Children argues children in bushfire affected communities lacked appropriate services.

"While the level of support in the aftermath of the fires was incredible, the needs of children was one very important area that was largely forgotten," Save the Children's executive director of Australian services Matt Gardiner said in a statement on Saturday.

NSW Rural Fire Service crews fight the Gospers Mountain Fire as it impacts a structure at Bilpin.
NSW Rural Fire Service crews fight the Gospers Mountain Fire as it impacts a structure at Bilpin.
AAP

"The bushfire response did not adequately cater to the unique needs of children, and as a result many suffered unnecessarily when appropriate and systematic support could have alleviated this."

Mr Gardiner said with more extreme and catastrophic events like this expected, children's needs should be prioritised alongside other essential services in future emergencies.

He said some children suffered the trauma of being separated from parents who stayed back to fight the fires, while others lost homes or pets, and many witnessed terrifying things and feared for their lives.

Lots of children also stayed in evacuation centres that were chaotic and filled with exhausted and overwhelmed people.

"It was distressing for adults, let alone children," Mr Gardiner said.

"We cannot underestimate the impact of this experience on a child's emotional wellbeing, and the longer-term mental health impacts it can cause if not properly addressed."

People aged between five and 25 seeking support with mental health can contact Kids Helpline at kidshelpline.com.au or on 1800 55 1800.

People can also contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. More information is available at Beyond Blue.org.au

Embrace Multicultural Mental Health supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

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