Aussie film shows global warming is changing childhood

When the Black Summer bushfires ravaged the NSW south coast, Bermagui was plunged into darkness for 36 hours as terrified locals huddled on the beach.

Eight-year-old Eddie evacuated with his family while his father stayed behind to protect their home.

"I was very anxious and worried about dad because he wasn't there with us," Eddie said.

Three years later, in October, that anxiety returned when a smaller fire burned close to the town of 2000.

"Ed was a bit upset about that," his father Scott said.

"He was three years younger back in 2019-2020 and ... that emotional state and that emotional imprinting had happened."

The family's story reached a global audience last week, when it was featured at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai.

The film of Eddie and his father - only identified by their first names - highlighted UNICEF and Royal Far West's partnership to provide wellbeing programs to families in disaster-affected areas.

The Bushfire Recovery Program has provided clinical and psychological support to 3000 children and their caregivers across 50 schools since 2020.

Black Summer bushfires NSW
The Black Summer bushfires in 2019-20 killed 34 people and destroyed thousands of homes.

The film shows climate change is disrupting childhoods, predominantly for young people living in country areas, Royal Far West chief executive Jacqui Emery said.

"We can't put a time-frame on recovery, it takes more time for some children and families," Ms Emery said.

"That might be because of the extent of the impact; some people lost loved ones, some people lost homes."

An independent assessment of the program by Charles Sturt University, released this month, found a marked improvement in mental health among participants.

Parents reported having better coping strategies, and their children showing stronger emotional regulation and resilience.

But some families expressed the need for continued support after the charity's program funding ended, as many rural areas experience a shortage of specialists.

"While I am so grateful that he has had a year of therapy, I am just like, now what?" one parent told the university study.

"It's very deflating. I don’t know what to do now."

Ms Emery said continued funding was vital to support children and families in disaster-affected communities for as long as they needed it.

"It's really important we don't stop short of finishing that job and ensuring every community we work with is ready to say goodbye to our services.

"We want them to have that capacity themselves, built into the community, into the classrooms, into homes."

After the film screening, Scott said it was special to share their family's story.

"I wish I could say our story was unique and children weren't so exposed to natural disasters ... but I know that it is all too common," he said.

"I hope this gets in front of the policy makers, funders and people that can start to halt or reverse this climate disaster we are experiencing."

Lifeline 13 11 14

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for people aged 5 to 25)

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