Transcript for
Communities in the immediate aftermath of a trauma

Runtime 00:29:08
Released 25/3/19

Narrator [00:00:02] Welcome to the Emerging Minds podcast.

Laura Gooyers-Bourke [00:00:08] This podcast is part of our series about supporting children and families with regard to disasters and community trauma events. You’re with Laura Gooyers-Bourke and today I’m speaking with Kate Brady about communities in the immediate aftermath of a trauma and the supports that children and families need during this time. Kate is the National Recovery Advisor for Australian Red Cross Emergency Services, where she is responsible for coordinating the development of all recovery services and activities undertaken around the country. She has worked on disaster recovery efforts in every state and territory in Australia, as well as working with the New Zealand Red Cross to support the Canterbury earthquake recovery efforts.

[00:00:46] Kate, welcome. Thanks for joining us today.

Kate Brady [00:00:48] Thanks for having me.

Laura Gooyers-Bourke [00:00:49] We really appreciate the time you took to come and have a chat with us today. So we’re just gonna be talking a bit about communities in the immediate aftermath of a trauma, and what are some of the supports that children and families need during this time. So the first question that we had for you is, do you want to talk a bit about what the difference is between a natural disaster and a community trauma?

Kate Brady [00:01:11] Sure. I think when we think back, community traumas, think about it as more of a catch-all term. So that idea that anything that is really distressing has a big impact on communities can be a community trauma. And that could be a motor vehicle accident. It could be an industry shutting down. That means lots of people lose their jobs. It could be a death in a school or in a workplace.

[00:01:33] When we talk about disasters, we’re talking about things that usually come from a hazard, whether they’re a natural hazard or a manmade hazard. And I know the term natural disaster gets used a lot, but I think it’s more helpful to think about it in terms of natural man-made hazards. There’s a really great research piece that was written by a guy called David Alexander. I’m pretty sure he’s a British researcher in disasters, but he talks about these really elegant example between the Sherman landslide, which happened, I think it was in 1964. And it was, you know, you from a geologist perspective, these amazing phenomena, where like, hundreds of thousands of kilos and tons of rock moved at black lightning speed and they just get really excited about it. But the thing is, no one noticed it happen. It was only that there was a routine aerial postal flight and the pilot looked down and went, “oh, that doesn’t look right.” And then it got investigated. And then he compares that with the Aberfan disaster, which happened in 1966, much smaller landslide, much, much, much, much, much smaller in terms of volume, in terms of speed. But it was a mining slag heap that the mine was the main industry in these towns. And lots of people in the town worked at the mine and the landslide went into the town and it landed on a school. And there are a lot of children who were killed. And so if we look at disasters in terms of impact or community tones in terms of impact rather than hazards, I think it’s helpful because you can sort of say in that landslide example that Sherman one, that’s heaps bigger in terms of the actual hazard, but in terms of the Aberfan landslide, we’re talking intergenerational trauma. We’re talking about an entire generation basically of the community wiped out. And and the type of impact that has is obviously really huge.

Laura Gooyers-Bourke [00:03:17] Yeah, that’s a really important distinction to make. Thanks for that. What usually happens in the community immediately following a trauma like that?

Kate Brady [00:03:24] So it really depends on how it’s come about. Was it something that was maybe expected? Was it really sudden? Was it within peoples community members? I suppose expectations of how the world works. And that’s one of the really shocking things for lots of people who are impacted by things that there was just no expectation of. Um, I was talking with some colleagues from New Zealand about the Canterbury earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. They were talking about. I mean, obviously just a really horrible event, really huge event. But one of the things that was so shocking about this event was that no one expected it to happen in Christchurch. You know, everyone had their money on Wellington. And if you go to Wellington, you know, it’s a city that’s really designed around the idea of knowing that they are going to have an earthquake because they sit on a fault line, whereas Wingard, Christchurch, that’s not the case. And so when we were talking about things that happened in the immediate aftermath, particularly if it’s a it, if it’s a large-scale event, we usually say gets referred to in I suppose textbook sometimes. And I want to use air quotes on this, but I know you can’t see them if you’re listening to the podcast, they talk about a honeymoon period where, you know, people really come together. It’s where you hear a lot of the you know, we’ll get through this.

[00:04:41] We are and there’s there’s lots of different geographic references for how strong, you know, like we’re Aussie battlers, in the UK they talk about stoicism and, you know, that stiff upper lip sort of mentality. If you go to Canada, they talk about, you know, that real frontier mentality and the Americans talk about, you know, just being super strong. The Kiwis talk about the number eight wire mentality, which I’d never heard of before. But apparently that’s just about resourcefulness and resilience. And so we have these like real coming together and a lot of the time it’s where you’ll hear politicians make comments around like, “we will be there with you every step of the way, we’ll rebuild brick by brick, school by school”, those sort of statements and that real influx of outside support often particularly if it’s, you know, a disaster event as a really high profile, we’ll see an influx of support from outside areas. We tend to see it happen in the weeks and months following. That is people go from being super connected. And what is an Australian psychologist, Rob Gordon, who who is incredibly well experienced in disasters and he talks about is like hyper bonding. You know, everyone really comes together, even neighbours that you didn’t like before, people that you didn’t like before in your community, all of a sudden you really come together over this common experience and, you know, sort of this this thing that you’re going to go through together and over the weeks and months and sometimes over it over years, often over the years, we see people finding it becoming increasingly difficult.

[00:06:04] So not only does a lot of the outside support go away, they start to see lots of comments like, “aren’t you guys over that? Like, is that still a thing having you? Why haven’t you rebuilt yet? Why is this all fixed yet? I can’t believe you guys are still talking about it, aren’t you bored of talking about this stuff now?” But really, for people who have been impacted, not only do you see really starting to take in the shock of what’s happened and the enormity of what’s happened, but also starting to really calibrate on some of those impacts, like, “what does this actually mean if the school isn’t going to be in place for six months? What does this actually mean? If I lose my job locally and I have to get a job out of town, what does this mean? The road isn’t going to be repaired properly for 18 months or two years and it’s going to extend my commute by two hours every day. What does that mean from a childcare perspective? What does this mean from being able to see my friends and family?” And then you get loads of what we call secondary stresses. So things like the health impacts, challenges to accessing food sometimes, you know, in or being of a cook for yourself if you’re living in temporary accommodation. Insurance claims and issues like that. Things like what might have seemed a small thing in the first couple of days where, for example, if you lose your car in a disaster and you’ll say things in those first couple of days, like, well, at least we all got at least everyone’s safe a couple of months down the track. Not having access to a car could become a huge issue for you both socially, financially and just practically become an issue for you. And we say, I mean, I know you have other people talk on the podcast from a psychological perspective, but we see a huge rush of adrenaline in people for those first couple of days and weeks, sometimes months that really get them through that. But then that starts to drop off and really heightened levels of cortisol, which is like when you protracted stress hormones and it really slows everyone down. So it’s quite often to go to, you know, really common to go to community sort of six months. Twelve months, eighteen months after disaster event has happened. And everyone looks really tired. They’ve had to take on an incredible amount of extra work, incredible amounts of stress. They’re probably not having their normal routines like they would otherwise. And they just look really, really tyred and exhausted and often really overwhelmed. What we know, though, the research shows it to us, looking at lots and lots of different disasters, looking at huge amounts of data, but also experience really shows us that most people do come through this. Most people come through this quite well. The vast majority of people will recover really well. I think what is surprising, though, is how long that takes. And I think that’s reflected in the media’s coverage of it. You know, they usually cover it for the first couple of hours, first couple of days, and they come back in six months time or the first month anniversary. And they’re like, well, like, not everything’s fixed. I think it’s like in movies, you know, like movies and TV shows normally stop on the day after the disaster when everyone’s got through the flood or the fire or maybe some people haven’t, but they sort of stop before any of the aftermath has to be dealt with. And so I think our collective narrative around this is like we’re really strong and we’ll just get through it. And then when you’re having to do it, it just takes so unbelievably long lacked it to get through it. And I think it comes as a real surprise. It definitely comes as a surprise for businesses. It definitely comes as a surprise for support services. Even we see lots of organisations who are either charged with recovery responsibilities or wanting to come in and provide support. And they plan for sort of six months as being the long term planning instead of, you know, five years being there, long term planning or eight years or ten years being near long term planning, which we know is required in lots of cases. But I think anyone who has been through a disaster, particularly if you’re listening to this in its early days, you should really take heart in the fact that most people do recover really well. You just need to pace yourself.

[00:09:54] I mean, Rob, the person I was talking about before he talks about it sometimes in terms of it being a marathon, not a sprint. And, you know, you just need to repeat this mantra to yourself like it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Marathon, not a sprint. And I remember I’m talking about. In a community that I had gone to and that was some years down the track after the disaster of it, they had gone through and someone who I knew quite well pulled me aside and said, it’s it’s not it’s not a marathon. It’s like a pentathlon, but it’s a pentathlon that you never train for. And always new things keep keep getting thrown at you. And I was like, okay, actually, that’s maybe a better analogy. And I ran this pass. I was having dinner with a colleague of mine from Christchurch and she was personally impacted by the events in Christchurch. And then she started working disaster recovery. She’s a psychologist. And I I said to these pentathlon analogy and she sort of you know, she chewed it over while she was eating a mouthful of food. And she said it’s not like a pentathlon. It’s like The Hunger Games is like disaster recovery is basically like The Hunger Games, except you supposed to pretend that you’re grateful the whole time. So you like you’re grateful to be in The Hunger Games. That’s what disaster recovery is really like, nose like. Okay. All right. Like we’ve been getting you all wrong or like using the it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And try and tell people just to slow down and take their time was actually all these things are going to hit you at different points.

Laura Gooyers-Bourke [00:11:15] I think that’s a good analogy. The Hunger Games. So in your work, you’ve gone into communities that have experienced natural disasters like bushfires and floods, as well as man made disasters like the Sydney siege. Is the response from families and communities different to the types of events? Does it change and fluctuate depending on what’s happened?

Kate Brady [00:11:36] It does, but I don’t think in the way that that question sort of alludes to it’s not like, well, if there’s a fire, this is what the reaction is going to be. And if there’s a siege, this is what the reaction is going to be. And if there’s a flood. This is what the reaction will be. It’s more around the impacts. And I think it’s far more helpful to think about disaster events irrespective of what has it is that’s caused it in terms of those impacts. Or if we go back to that landslide example, you know, the Aberfan landslide is obvious then going to have huge intergenerational trauma around the loss of all these children and all these other community members.

[00:12:12] If you go into a community or you work with the community who has been impacted by cyclones, for example, sometimes that will be one of the most traumatic experiences that that community and those individuals have ever experienced. And sometimes they’ll just say, yeah, it’s much like, of course, there was gonna be a cyclone come through here and we feel okay about it. So there’s that level of expectation and then looking at the impacts. So if you look at something like the Martin Place ages, is you leading to that’s like a really scary event. Quite shocking. Hadn’t really happened in Australia and certainly not on that scale in a very long time. So there had been events happen maybe in the 1980s. I think the hodo straight massacre and the shootings in Melbourne in the post office building. But most people don’t remember those sort of things. So, you know, really shocking, scary events. I think when we talk about it in terms of a family context as well, in terms of what maybe we’ve talked to our children about and what we have prepared them for.

[00:13:12] So if we live in a flood prone area, hopefully we talk to our kids about floods and we talk to them about what happens when there’s lots of rain coming in or when there’s lots of water coming down a river system. And they’ve probably experienced minor flooding in some way. And so it doesn’t come as such a shock. And I think I mean, I’m I’m a parent. I have a two-year-old daughter and a sixteen-year-old stepson. And I think things like that, we usually feel quite comfortable talking about them when it comes to something like a siege or shooting or the things that have happened in Bourke Street. I think we clam up a bit more. We don’t really know how to talk about it in a way that we still want our children to feel safe, but also explain what’s happened.

[00:13:54] And so in terms of community reactions, I think, for example, if you’re talking about sort of these more manmade hazards, I think we usually say a high level of anger. But that’s not to say that there is an anger that is present in other events. It’s really around. Is there something to be angry about? And quite often there is, whether it’s how the hazard was caused and the information that people received or didn’t receive, things like insurance claims being knocked back, things like that. So there’s quite often high levels of anger anyway. But I think in on these manmade events, we quite often see a bit of a real, you know, a heightened level of concentrated anger and concentrated grief. And I think irrespective of whether it has it is manmade or like a naturally occurring hazard, lack of fire or flood. If we say that there’s a level of malevolence, like if we think that there was bad intent behind something happening. So maybe it was that there was an industrial accident that sparked a fire. And we think that that was due to negligence. We can sort of feel like that was an event that makes us more angry than if a lightning strike happens, for example. And it’s just unavoidable and sort of, you know, we’ll gets referred to a law as an act of God. So I think these people can generally accept those things a little bit easier. That’s not to say the easy. It’s still hard, but if you really feel like that it was an intentional bad thing that happened. There’s a lot more shock. There’s a lot more disbelief. There’s a lot more anger. And it’s harder to reconcile, I think.


Narrator [00:15:21] You’re listening to an Emerging Minds podcast.

Laura Gooyers-Bourke [00:15:27] What do families and communities need during and after community trauma? In order to best support children?

Kate Brady [00:15:34] I think the first thing is they usually need time. So they need the the. Anyone who’s trying to help, whether it’s a formal organisation, whether it’s a spontaneous volunteer group, whether it’s people coming from outside the community, then they need to be able to lead the pace, I suppose. And so in some cases, that will be, we want all this stuff right now. We need all these help right now. And then we need you to back off for a bit and then we need you to come back or we really know what we need at the moment. But we we want to know that you’re available to support. I think that information is really key to supporting children and young people after a disaster. If we’re talking about it from an adult’s perspective, I suppose so. Making sure parents school teaches anyone else has information that they can give to children and young people and guidance around. It’s really important to tell them the truth here and what’s happened in an age appropriate way. And if you’re someone’s parent or the teacher, you’re probably going to understand what that means for them. But I think from children and young people’s perspective, they often get left out of the key groups that support should be provided for. And I think it’s I think either relegated to schools who may or may not be capable of doing that.

[00:16:42] There are some schools who do an absolutely amazing job of that. And there are some schools who just don’t have the capacity or they’re battling too many things at one time. And we we saw that in the 2009 Victorian bushfires. There’s been some longitudinal research carried out after that. And one of the real service gaps that was identified was around children and young people. And I was there. Red Cross bushfire recovery co-ordinator for those events. And I know that when we were doing a service gap analysis, one of the things that we really saw was that the service providers seemed to be reasonably confident in providing information for parents to give two small children. But there was a real gap with teenagers and young people and it was this idea of boooo. They’ll probably get it at schools and maybe we just give the information to the teachers or they’ll probably get it from their parents or we’ll just give the information to them parents and lots of young people saying, like, we were in these, too. And like, you know, when we go to get information about this, all of the information is designed for adults. None of it is designed for us. And we ended up producing a number of resources designed specifically for young people, particularly targeting that teenage age group. And we worked with a lot of different teenagers when we were developing it. And one of the first things we were hearing that this was a gap was we were saying, so what is it that you think you need? Like what information is missing for you? And what was really interesting to me and I suppose shouldn’t have been surprising, I came from a background in child protection. I worked with a lot of teenagers in child protection. So I should have I shouldn’t have been surprised. They wanted the exact same information that adults wanted. They just wanted it presented in a different way. And I mean, frankly, I think if you ask a lot of the adult thought, they want the information in different way, too. But the teenagers, they wanted to know things like what’s going to happen. They want to know how they could support their family. What’s going on with my parents? How do I make sure that they’re OK? What’s going on with my younger brothers and sisters who are how do I make sure they’re okay? How do I help my friends? They also wanted to know a lot of things that I think didn’t come off as explicitly when we were talking to adults. They wanted to know about changes in their bodies and whether or not it was normal. And I think if we think about, you know, that time of adolescence, I mean, as adults, I think we can all remember what it was like being a teenager and things just happening at a frightening pace, frankly, with our bodies sometimes. And then you add all these other stress and physiological changes that disasters and or really stressful events happen. Is this is this normal? And also changes like, for example, wanting to be really close to their parents when maybe they hadn’t had had sort of already broken away a little bit, that all of a sudden wanting to be around mum and dad or not wanting to be around mum and dad at all, like when previously there had been really connected and not sleeping well and when they had previously been sleeping, sleeping well, those sort of things. So I think for children and young people, are you talking to other people on this topic who are more knowledgeable? I think we need to recognise that they are really key group of people that we need to provide information for. And just because they might speak differently to the adults who are designing or want information differently, that doesn’t mean that they need shouldn’t be met.

[00:19:51] But also to the people who are trying to support them, trying to provide as much information as we can to them and guidance around how to how to talk about it, because I think there’s still belief with some adults that we shouldn’t tell children about what’s happened or we shouldn’t explain the impacts or we shouldn’t talk about how scared I was as a as a parent or care or grandparent or whoever it was. I think it’s okay to talk about that. You just talk about in an honest and age appropriate way. The other thing that I think is really key to understanding the best supports that are available for children and young people is. For parents and carers and significant adults in children’s lives to understand that their recovery is is one of the biggest predictors of how their children will recover. So I find that quite interesting when we look to run, say, information session, psycho information sessions or provide support to adults. Quite often they weren’t come because they don’t have time. They’re very busy and I completely understand that. But if we run an information session or an activity or produce a resource that is specifically designed around supporting children recover, that all come because they all really, really passionate about making sure that the children and young people in their lives are supported as best they can. And quite often we use that as an entry way into saying, okay, here are some of the things that your children may experience, but also this is why you need to take care of yourself, because it’s going to be one is one of the biggest influences. And I think sometimes giving adults the permission to stop in like, you know, the oxygen mask principle, you know, stop and take care of themselves so that they can take care of other people in lots of cases is really helpful.

Laura Gooyers-Bourke [00:21:33] Yeah, that’s a really important message to consider yourselves and consider your own recovery as it will benefit your children as well.

Kate Brady [00:21:40] Yeah. Even if you can’t look at it as being a thing about, oh it will be good for me, if you can think about it like it’s going to benefit other people, more people are more likely to do it then.

Laura Gooyers-Bourke [00:21:50] What are some of the practical things that families and communities can do immediately after a community trauma to help ensure that children and families recover as best they can?

Kate Brady [00:21:59] There are lots of things, and I think sometimes we feel a bit paralysed around how are we going to how we recover from these, how we’re going to help children, young people recover from this and that. There are lots of really practical, easy things that people can do. One of them is talk about what’s happened. It doesn’t mean that you have to be really gratuitous or detailed in the in the amount of information. But talking about what’s happened, that black normalising feelings that aren’t common on a day-to-day basis for both of us. But one of the biggest predictors of how communities will recover is how well connected they are. So how strong the connections are in communities and how varied, you know, having lots of different types of connections in your community. So making sure you make extra efforts to come together with people, making time for that and prioritising that, because when you have so much on it can really feel like a I like I just am trying to rebuild the house or I’m trying to sort out temporary accommodation or I’m travelling so much more and I completely empathise about how overwhelming that can feel, but coming together and having good social interaction. And that’s like a really clinical talking about that. But sharing meals together, going to the playground again, going to sport those sort of things, we come together with different people and you get to do things that you used to enjoy doing is really, really important to do in some of the best things that you can do. The other thing is asking for help. It’s fine to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness. If you ask for help, it doesn’t mean that someone else isn’t going to get help.

[00:23:30] We hear that a lot when I’m not as badly off impacted as so-and-so is that washin. It doesn’t mean that that service isn’t going to be available for that person, but it coming together, talking about it, asking for help, not feeling guilty about trying to have fun is really important and trying to re-establish routines as much as you can. And I know that that can be incredibly difficult after these scenarios, but trying to re-establish bedtimes as much as you can, trying to establish mealtimes as much as you can. Acknowledging that this stuff gets really difficult, particularly if you’re living in different places and you have different access to kitchens and foods and things like that, trying to re-establish time to spend together, trying to re-establish even things like, you know, bedtime story routines or whatever it is that you used to do, trying to re-establish some of those things. Working with the school that your children go to if they go to school around. What sort of supports are available there? Making sure that you can talk to the teachers or the other staff around how you think your child is coping so that everyone’s on the same page and can provide support.

[00:24:37] We say lots of parents, particularly after a really scary event, sometimes being really reluctant to leave their children. And I completely understand that. Why you don’t want to be able to count your chickens all the time, you know, look around and be able to see them and touch them and and make light sort of feel like you can keep them safe. But being able to let them go back to school, being able to let them go to friends, places like if they’re things that they used to do, really important.

Laura Gooyers-Bourke [00:25:02] What are some of the things that first responders can do in their role to help children after community trauma?

Kate Brady [00:25:08] I think that’s a really, really great question because I think there are lots of things. First responders can do. Most first responders that I’ve met are really great with kids or really want to be very helpful with kids. So being able to explain information in a really calm way I think is really helpful. We know with the interventions, the mass trauma intervention, so they’re around promoting a sense of safe.

[00:25:31] I can remember them all. Safety, hope, calm, connectedness and self-efficacy. First responders can can play a really big role in that. And promoting that sense of safety. So, yeah, a really bad thing did happen. But we’re here and we’re going to help. And he’s some information that might help you. And I don’t mean like listing that in dot points, but explaining that in in an age appropriate way to whoever they’re talking to, but also being able to work with children and families in non disaster times so that when they when particularly small children, you know, you see a police officer or see a firefighter or say someone who’s from the ambulance or the USGS or whichever services, they don’t only see them in scary times, they see them in positive times as well.

[00:26:16] And so can build other relationships. And I know there are loads of great examples of where fire brigades or police offices, ambulance services, everyone like tries to connect with communities in non disaster times. And I think that’s a really important thing that they can do. We know that lots of first responders have families, so whether their parents or aunts or uncles or grandparents or are really important adults in other children’s lives. And so, again, that going back to being able to take care of yourself. We know that one of the predictors for poor mental health outcomes is repeated exposure to lots of different types of trauma. And so making sure you really prioritise self-care as part of your role so that in your outside life, outside that role, you can also be a great support to the young people in your lives.

Laura Gooyers-Bourke [00:27:04] I think that’s really important advice. Do you have any final advice that can be helpful for families and communities?

Kate Brady [00:27:09] I think if you’re someone who is trying to support someone who’s just been through a disaster, just remember that these takes a really long time and that anything that you can see that is having an impact, that impact is probably going to be more complex for the person who’s going through it. And I think we say that a lot with people who are really well-intentioned and they say, well, these family lost all their possessions. So we’re just going to replace all of their possessions for them. And then it will then it will be fixed, sort of acknowledging that, know, what you need to do is stop and ask that person how they are and what help it is that they need right then and there. And being able to provide that help and then going back and asking what help do you need and what hope do you name? Is there anything else that you need being willing to talk about it over a long period of time? So really remembering that these impacts have long term consequences. And the more that you can provide support over the long term, the better it’s gonna be.

Laura Gooyers-Bourke [00:28:08] Well, thank you very much, Kate, for taking the time to come and talk to us today. We really appreciate it.

Kate Brady [00:28:13] It’s a really great podcast series, so thanks for having me.

Laura Gooyers-Bourke [00:28:15] Thank you.

Narrator [00:28:18] Visit our website at to access a range of resources to assist your practice. Brought to you by the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health, led by Emerging Minds. The National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Program.

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