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On the last track, we discussed a study conducted in 1994 that investigated the impact of a bushfire disaster in New South Wales, Australia. The study also evaluated postdisaster screening methods for the children affected by the bushfire.
On this track, we will continue to discuss a study conducted in 1994 that investigated the impact of a bushfire disaster in New South Wales, Australia. We will specifically discuss postdisaster coping materials evaluated by the researchers.
2 Interventions to Children Identified as Strongly Affected
Researchers offered two interventions to children identified as strongly affected during the assessments we discussed on Track 13. High school children were offered a group therapy program. All of the elementary school children, including the young students between the ages of 5 and 8, were offered a guided therapy manual called “The Bushfire and Me: A Story of What Happened to me and my family,” by Storm, McDermott, and Finlayson. Similar therapy principles applied to the development of each resource, including the need to be developmentally appropriate and to be sympathetic to the major communication style of children.
Intervention #1 - Guided Therapy Manual
Additionally, the programs were not seen as a panacea. Parents, teachers, and other caregiving professionals were encouraged to identify children with either unremitting symptoms or persistent impairments, so that these children could be referred to more intensive individualized treatments.
The workbook consisted of three sections. The first and final sections were aimed at parents and caregivers, and included factual information about the bushfires, as well as psychoeducational information summarizing the range of typical emotional responses exhibited by children following a traumatic event. Guidelines were also given regarding why some children may require a psychological intervention, while others might not.
The middle section of the book was for children, and began by introducing a cast of anthropomorphic cartoon characters, such as a possum named “Firefighting Pos.” These characterized personified groups of people children likely came in contact with during the bushfires, and asked questions, made suggestions, described possible activities, and introduced factual information. The structure of the workbook was a chronological progression from the predisaster period of normality, to predisaster apprehension, the actual disaster, the postdisaster aftermath, and transition points following the disaster. These transition point included returning to school and anniversary reactions.
Intervention #2 - Six 2-Hour Group Sessions
This psychoeducation included normalizing emotional and behavioral changes since the bushfire, as well as coping skills acquisition. Skills acquisition included relaxation techniques, identifying and challenging unhelpful schemata and cognitions that had arisen as a result of the disaster, and gaining mastery by problem solving and prepare for future bushfire seasons.
Both parents and children reported being pleased with both interventions, although parents expressed a desire for a more simplified workbook for the very young elementary school children. Unfortunately for the researchers, funding was not available for a detailed follow-up study of children’s psychopathology, so the follow-up was limited to a detailed client satisfaction survey for parents, children and parents together, and children separately.
A large percentage of parents found the information in the workbooks useful, and agreed they would recommend the workbook to other families in similar situations. 54% of parents indicated that the workbook made it easier for them to discuss the traumatic events of the bushfires with their children. 90% of children felt that the workbook helped them to talk about the disaster. Children also frequently reported that a parent would help them with exercises in the workbook, which was a positive experience.
Aspects of the workbook that the elementary school children most liked were the coloring tasks, often of fire-related pictures, the dialogue from the cartoon characters, and certificates they could remove and send to firefighters or other caring people to thank them for their help. children also described positive responses to the bushfire stories, empty pages on which the child could add his or her own work, and information boxes.
Think of a child you are currently evaluating for post traumatic stress following a disaster. Would an exercise similar to the workbook described on this track be helpful in his or her recovery process?
On this track, we continued our discussion of a study conducted in 1994 that investigated the impact of a bushfire disaster in New South Wales, Australia. We specifically discussed postdisaster coping materials evaluated by the researchers.
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