July 2021 Volume 7 Issue 7

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Message from the CEO

As we emerge from seven days of lockdown across the state, I’d like to highlight the ongoing positive work happening across country South Australia, by focusing on one of the many great programs Country SA PHN is funding. The Community Resilience and Readiness program was prompted by the recent experience of bushfires on Kangaroo Island, in the Adelaide Hills, on Yorke Peninsula and in the South-East.

The program aims to increase bushfire affected communities psychological and practical preparedness for future events. It’s designed to support these communities increase their resilience for future bushfires and other disasters. Country SA PHN recognises the challenges these communities continue to face in the bushfire aftermath and the ongoing uncertainty of COVID-19.

Funded by Country SA PHN, as part of the Australian Government mental health response to bushfire trauma, the program is led by Community Resilience Officers (CROs) who are assisting bushfire impacted community’s recovery by supporting their mental and emotional preparedness.

The idea germinated when Adelaide Hills CRO, Miranda Hampton was working with the Cudlee Creek, and other hills, communities following the recent devastating bushfires and identified gaps in people’s practical and psychological preparedness and education.

Miranda was conscious that recovery services would have an end point and that the community needed help beyond this to be proactive and develop resilience strategies for the long term – rather than just recovery. Miranda and fellow CRO Sue Thomas could see the potential benefits of building a resilient community – one that is emotionally and mentally prepared to face future disasters - rather than just react to them. That it is a marathon – not a sprint - and the more prepared the community is for whatever comes next, the better.

Country SA PHN’s Bushfire Response Coordinator, Sally Patten, agreed and collaborated with Miranda to make the CRO role a reality. Country SA PHN is now funding seven CROs in four recently affected bushfire communities in the Adelaide Hills, Kangaroo Island, Yorke Peninsula and the South-East.

Kangaroo Island communities were severely affected by the devastating bushfires that tore through the Island in January 2020. Kangaroo Island CRO Maree Baldwin says the bushfires exacerbated mental health challenges already present on the Island. With the added trauma of COVID-19, the community was restricted in meeting socially to support each other through the crisis. As such, many Islanders are still struggling to move beyond the traumatic experience.

Maree and fellow Kangaroo Island CRO Kate Brooksby say their particular focus is on supporting families, strengthening social networks, improving well being and increasing participation of people in community life to enhance family and community interactions. The CROs recognise that bushfire recovery will take more than just rebuilding physical structure and that it is the social bonds that uphold the community that need to be repaired to ensure it is prepared for future such events.

Yorke Peninsula communities experienced significant fires in 2019 at Yorketown, Price and Maitland. While not as densely populated as some of the state’s other bushfire affected areas Yorke Peninsula CROs Kate Martin and Katie Hughes were aware the fires highlighted many real gaps in the community’s preparedness and exposed other well-being issues that were bubbling beneath the surface.

Keilira, in the state’s South-East has also been severely impacted by bushfires that started on December 30, 2019. South-East CRO, Kristen Wilks, has been concentrating on the critical role in her community of developing and establishing good relationships and understanding what particular assistance will help the Keilira community in their recovery and resilience building.

Country SA PHN recognises the ongoing importance of continuing the great work in supporting these four recently bushfire affected individual communities and building on that momentum in a capacity building role. Country SA PHN is very pleased to fund the CROs in such an important initiative to assist South Australian bushfire affected communities to face inevitable future challenges with resilience, preparedness and a sense of empowerment.

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