Wednesday 28 July 2021
The experience of the recent Kangaroo Island bushfires has prompted a new Community Resilience and Readiness program for fire affected communities to increase their psychological and practical preparedness for future disasters.
Funded by Country SA PHN, as part of the Australian Government mental health response to bushfire trauma, the program is designed to support Kangaroo Island communities increase their resilience for future bushfires and other disasters. Community Resilience Officers (CROs) are leading the program - assisting fire impacted community’s recovery by supporting their mental and emotional preparedness. Country SA PHN is now funding seven CROs in four recently affected bushfire communities on Kangaroo Island, the Yorke Peninsula, the Adelaide Hills and the South-East.
“As the emergency response services were wrapping up, we could see the importance of keeping the great work of many in these communities going and continuing that momentum in a capacity building role,” said Country SA PHN, Chief Executive Officer, Kim Hosking.
“We’re very pleased to fund the CROs in such an important initiative to assist communities to face inevitable future challenges with resilience, preparedness and a sense of empowerment.”
Following the bushfires, services delivering mental health supports directly to the island increased by up to 65%. Much of this funding was scheduled to cease by 30 June 2020. It is vital the island begins to build the capacity, strengths, skills and talents of its community to support a collective move towards a mentally healthy future.
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,” she said.
“As such, we’re aware that many Islanders are still struggling to move beyond the traumatic experience.”
Maree is also co-ordinator of the KI Community Centre, managed by leading social enterprise, Junction. The Centre has been a haven of support and connection for locals, particularly in the aftermath of the fires and has become one of the key providers of ongoing support and services.
“We need to recognise that recovering from the bushfire crisis will take more than just rebuilding physical structure, we need to repair the social bonds that uphold our community and ensure it is prepared for future such events.”
Media enquiries: Kate Dorsey, Country SA PHN Communications Officer, 0437 324 382
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 idea for the Community Resilience and Readiness program came from Adelaide Hills CRO, Miranda Hampton’s experience working with hills fire affected communities where she identified gaps in people’s practical and psychological preparedness and education. Miranda could see the potential benefits of building resilient communities that are emotionally and mentally prepared to face future disasters - rather than just react to them.
According to the Australian Psychological Society: “You are more likely to stick with a household plan if you have also prepared psychologically for a bushfire. Being able to manage your emotions in an emergency (that is being psychologically prepared), can save your life and that of others.”
“Traditionally, bushfire preparation has primarily focused on physical preparedness, but that it is psychological preparation that aims to help manage the potential mental and emotional impacts in communities of future events,” said Kate.
“While it is important to respect the individual aspects of each of our small communities, there is strength in bringing the island together to share ideas and connect our values.”
Upcoming activities and events planned under the program include: Mental Health First Aid and Youth Mental Health First Aid Training; the continuation of the Community Garden program with Sophie Thompson; grant writing and governance training, recruiting, supporting and managing volunteers training and community events such as the Humans of KI Film and Literature Festival.
Maree and Kate can be found at the Community Centre and the Lions Spinners and Weavers Building in Parndana on Thursdays. You can also keep an eye on the Kangaroo Island Community Centre Facebook page, the Kangaroo Island Council event calendar and the Islander newspaper.
If this story has raised personal concern please contact:
For immediate medical assistance in an emergency always call Triple Zero (000) and ask for the ambulance
For non-life-threatening mental health emergencies, phone the 24/7 Mental Health Triage Service 13 14 65.
Counselling Service: Regional Access (24 hours)
Free professional telephone and online counselling for people 15 years and older living or working in regional South Australia.