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Drought is a disaster too!

12th November 2019

By Annette McCarthy
Student Support Services Coordinator
Townsville Catholic Education

In 2019 there has been a lot of focus in our diocese on the impact of the monsoonal event and the flooding that occurred in February.  In particular it has been a big focus for me as our schools and student support services responded to the needs of our students, families, and the community over the stages of this disaster. Part of our work has been about ensuring people are connected to supports, that we are able to identify children or others in need or who have been affected by the stress and adversity and who may require additional assistance.

Whilst attending an Emerging Minds information session recently about a Community Trauma Toolkit for communities affected by disasters, the needs of our communities impacted by drought were highlighted.  The flow-on effects and changes in day-to-day life due to the ongoing stressful circumstances caused by drought can create uncertainty and concern for our children and families too.  As children understand their world through their relationships with their family, friends and communities, this long term stress or hardship on families can affect them greatly

This prompted me to think about own diocese and to better understand how our own community is also impacted by drought during a time others are recovering from floods.  What I found was that we currently have a number of drought-declared regions within our diocese.  These include three shires fully drought-declared like Winton, Richmond, McKinlay and three shires partly drought-declared such as Whitsunday, Charters Towers and Flinders shire. Our families and communities from these shires are suffering and working very hard to remain positive. Some children in our boarding schools are also having to experience the drought separated from families and many of those important relationships, and this offers some unique opportunities for us in education to reach out and assist them.

Families and educators can support our children during drought by doing a number of things which will minimise the impact and potential traumatic experiences to which they are exposed. “Some of the toughest effects of drought are the feelings of isolation, of not wanting to burden others who are also experiencing hardship, and the reduction in community events and spirit.  For this reason, children and parents need friends and family time more than others.”  The Emerging Minds website offers a range of suggestions on this topic (below) and this great video clip describes some of the common issues for our young people. 

How can I support children during drought?

  • Try to look after yourself so you can look after your children.
  • Try looking at things through your child’s eyes and see things from their perspective.
  • Keep an open conversation so they can come to you at any time.
  • Be on the look out for changes in your child’s behaviour as this can indicate they need support.
  • Support your child’s social connections with family, friends, school and hobbies.
  • Give your child the opportunity to make decisions and have their voice heard.
  • Focus on the positive future for you, your kids and your community. Remind them that this drought will pass.

Personally, I regularly get to visit family in the Flinders Shire and also our schools in the regions affected greatly by the flood as well as the drought. The importance of family, friends, schools and other supports such as church, charity and government organisations and online supports really are critical for those coping with the long-term stress and uncertainty that comes with such disasters.

Our schools and parish communities can play a very important part in keeping children and families connected.  This will have short-term and long-term benefits for the mental health of our children and their families.  Remember this drought shall pass.

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