Children attending child care and students in bushfire-declared communities will receive additional mental health support.

Students from bushfire-declared communities will also receive special consideration to access scholarships for higher education.

Minister for Education Dan Tehan said child care centres, preschools, schools and universities are important community touchpoints that are helping families and children get back on their feet after the bushfires.

“Our Government is supporting child care centres, preschools, schools and universities in their important work, which is why I convened a meeting of education sector representatives this week,” Mr Tehan said.

“The message from that meeting was loud and clear: we need to focus on our young people’s mental health because these bushfires will impact communities long after the flames are extinguished.

“Our Government will provide an additional $8 million for mental health support through Beyond Blue to fund an extra 25 Beyond Blue liaison officers and supporting clinicians to work with local schools and early childhood services in bushfire-affected communities.

“We are offering extra funding for school chaplains which will be available to state and territory governments on request.

“Our Government will also re-prioritise funding within the Community Child Care Fund for bushfire-affected areas. This funding could help pay for temporary premises, replacement of damaged playground equipment, or wages for affected staff.”

Mr Tehan said the families of more than 90,000 children in bushfire-declared local government areas (LGAs) that might incur a Child Care Subsidy activity test debt for the 2019-20 financial year, would be exempt. This is similar to the exemption provided to Child Care Subsidy recipients in drought and flood-affected LGAs last year.

“Families can still claim the Child Care Subsidy even if their work, study or volunteering hours have been impacted by the bushfires.

“When it comes to rebuilding schools, funding is available through the jointly funded Commonwealth-State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangement for the restoration of essential public assets, including public schools.

“Our Government is also providing an additional $400 (a total of $800) for each child that has qualified for the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment which will help families with education expenses.

“To help students from bushfire-affected communities to attend university we will give special consideration to their circumstances if they apply for one of more than 1,000 scholarships through the $58.1 million Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships program. Given the immediate needs of the situation, these scholarships have been brought forward and will open from Monday.

“Following our meeting this week with representatives from the education sector, our Government will also work with the sector to implement their suggestions about how to improve bushfire management and recovery.”

This includes:

  • Investigating ways to draw on the experience of retired teachers, principals and counsellors to support schools in disaster-affected areas.
  • Working with the states and territories to improve access to information for child care providers on what to do in a bushfire and resources on air quality and managing the impact of smoke.
  • Making available to children, students, educators and families the Emerging Minds material on fire trauma, smoke and general education support.
  • Sharing with families and educators research on the effects of bushfires on child wellbeing.
  • Investigating the inclusion of trauma informed learning as part of Initial Teacher Education courses.
  • Working with universities to utilise their psychology and counselling resources to support existing mental health initiatives.

Member for Lyne Dr David Gillespie said child care and school were critical considerations for families affected by bushfires.

“In my electorate we are already seeing the community beginning to get back on its feet, with rebuilding work under way,” Dr Gillespie said.

“We also need to focus on the mental wellbeing of our communities, especially our youngest members.

“Education is so important and our Government’s program will help ensure we mitigate the impact of these bushfires on our children and their education.”

For more information visit www.education.gov.au/support-bushfire-affected-communities.