Compounding impacts of Bushfire on Developmental Vulnerability in Rural and Remote Communities: Intervening to change trajectories

Judith Crockett2, Michael  Curtin2, Gene Hodgins2, Sarah Verdon2,  Ms Sarah Eagland1, Ms  Jacqui  Emery1, Ms  Katherine Burchfield1, Lindsay  Cane1

1Royal Far West, Manly, Australia, 2Charles Sturt University, Australia

The 2019/2020 Australian bushfires affected tens of thousands of children and their families in rural Australia. Experiencing a disaster of this nature can have a devasting long term impact on a child’s wellbeing and development – especially if they are not provided with the right support, and especially if they have existing developmental vulnerabilities.

AEDC data tells us that children in regional, rural and remote areas are more likely to be developmentally vulnerable than children in metropolitan areas and are less able to access services. We know these vulnerabilities are exacerbated by bushfire. The family and community play a vital role in helping a child cope with a traumatic event, but their capacity to assist can be impacted by their own grief and loss and practical demands post event.

Royal Far West worked with communities and other partners to develop an evidence-informed, community development model to improve outcomes for regional children following a Bushfire event.

This included:

  • a community Needs Assessment in Bushfire effected areas (with UNICEF)
  • a peer reviewed systematic review of the literature on interventions for children following Bushfire, and consult with experts (with Charles Sturt University)
  • an evaluation to contribute to the evidence on best-practice responses (with Charles Sturt University)

Key findings /outcomes:

  • The Systematic Review (peer review published) and community needs analysis – identified long term impacts from Bushfire, particularly for more developmentally vulnerable children, which may not be apparent in the short term
  • Preliminary program evaluation – finds improvement in parent/carer knowledge and capacity to support children, and that children benefit from direct 1:1 and group programs.

Key learnings

AEDC data can help identify populations of children who have higher rates of developmental vulnerability, which can support co-design with affected communities to respond to emerging needs, such as bushfire events


Sarah Eagland has been the Clinical Manager of Social Work and Client Care at Royal Far West for 8 years. She has experience working in the fields of Mental Health, Autism, Learning Disability and Child Protection. Sarah is the Clinical Manger of the Bushfire Response Program.

Jacqui Emery is the Executive Director, Business, People and Culture at Royal Far West. She is an experienced leader and executive in media, education and not for profit sectors. Jacqui is the executive lead on the Bushfire Response Program.

Dr Sarah Verdon, PhD is Head of Speech Pathology at Charles Sturt University. Her research focuses on supporting the communication development of children from socially, culturally and geographically diverse backgrounds.