When bushfires cut a swathe of fury across Kangaroo Island this year, ACCESS Programs stepped in to help. Nine months later, the team continues to support community wellbeing through remote wellness checks and counselling.
Bushfires were still raging across Kangaroo Island in January when ACCESS Programs began a trauma response from a base in Kingscote.
The tight-knit community was reeling from the devastation of losing livelihoods, homes, stock and wildlife in the fires, which scorched almost half of the island and claimed two lives.
Some people had experienced personal loss. Others were helping family and friends to deal with the disaster while managing their own work demands in a burnt and confronting landscape teeming with emergency services personnel.
Tasked with supporting community wellbeing, ACCESS Programs moved quickly and based one staff member on the Island for two days a week.
The immediate aftermath of the fires was a flurry of activity. Presenting factors included high anxiety, acute stress disorder, loss and grief, workplace and parenting challenges, and vicarious trauma.
Soon, other problems began to surface, as many in the local community continued to live in temporary accommodation, tents or caravans, and without power in charred homes with restricted vehicle access due to fallen trees.
The onset of COVID-19 two months later magnified the accumulative effect of these experiences while demanding a different approach from ACCESS Programs.
Support continued via any means possible including by phone, SMS, emails, Zoom and other platforms to ensure clients received the help they needed. This included individual wellness checks to assess coping and mental health, and information sharing to facilitate community assistance.
Nine months later, the trauma response continues through remote means, with ACCESS Programs committed to supporting the community ahead of another potentially dangerous summer.
“Feedback shows that just knowing that we care, and are checking in with the community regularly and proactively, means so much,’’ said Clair Clark, Manager, Access Programs.
“It has been, and continues to be, a pleasure to partner with the Kangaroo Island community in their journey of recovery as they rebuild.’’