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‘Stormbirds’ set to soar at 2022 National Resilient Australia Awards

The Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience has announced that MacKillop Family Services’ Stormbirds program is a finalist in the Mental Health and Wellbeing Award category of the 2022 National Resilient Australia Awards.

Stormbirds is one of MacKillop’s Seasons for Growth suite of programs that supports young people to understand and manage the changes and impacts they experience as a result of a natural disaster. The program has been in increasing demand over the last few years as it creates a safe space for children and young people to practice new ways of thinking and responding to change and loss following natural disaster events.

One of the key strengths of Stormbirds is that it supports children throughout a period when their parents may be juggling the realities of flood damage including loss of homes, belongings and jobs, while dealing with their own trauma-response to the disasters.

Katie Smith, Principal of Rollands Plains Upper School in NSW, described how Stormbirds was central to supporting the school community after witnessing that backburning across the road from school was triggering for her students 18 months after they experienced bushfires.

“We needed a program that would encourage the children to express their emotions and give them a common language they can use. After taking part in the Stormbirds program, we witnessed that when kids are equipped with the confidence and skills to express their emotions, they can start to heal. Stormbirds teaches them that if something triggers their worried feelings, they know where to go and they know they are not alone.”

Developed in 2009 following the Black Saturday fires in Victoria, the program was revised in 2020 to incorporate recent evidence regarding the needs of children and young people who have experienced natural disasters.

Professor Anne Graham AO, author of the Stormbirds program and Director of the Centre for Children and Young People at Southern Cross University, understands how important it is for children to be supported in processing their emotions after living through a natural disaster and knowing who to reach out to in any challenging times ahead.

“A key part of the Stormbirds session is ‘Growing Stronger Together’, which supports children and young people to identify ways that a natural disaster can strengthen communities. It’s important that they can name the special people, places and things that helped them through a difficult time. Knowing there are people who continue to support them beyond the immediate crisis is critical for developing resilience and feeling positive about the future,” adds Professor Graham.

MacKillop’s Program Manager, Fiona McCallum, is delighted to see the Stormbirds program make the finals of these prestigious Awards.

“Over the past two years, Stormbirds has supported over 600 school communities and 8,000 children following bushfires, floods and other weather events. We take a community-driven approach and work with schools and agencies to train local professionals, building capacity in local communities to deliver the Stormbirds program with a train the trainer approach. Our approach responds not only to the immediate need, and importantly to ensure communities to respond to future disaster events.”

“The training supports professionals, too. This is important as many of the people supporting students have also experienced the natural disaster event themselves. It is vital that they are supported to remain strong so they can continue to help children, young people families and communities to process the events and recover as a community,” Ms McCallum added.

The Resilient Australia Awards is a nation-wide program that celebrates, shares and promotes initiatives that build and foster community resilience to disasters and emergencies. Since 2000, the awards have showcased innovation and exemplary practice across Australia; celebrating achievements that might otherwise go unseen, and inspiring others to build greater disaster resilience in their own communities.

The 2022 Resilient Australia Award winners will be announced in Hobart, Tasmania on 6 December and the event will be streamed live via Zoom.