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LEC research supports UK children affected by natural disasters

Story supplied by LU Press Office

Drawings by children affected by the 2007 Hull floods Drawings by children affected by the 2007 Hull floods

Lancaster Environment Centre researchers are working with Save the Children to deliver workshops to support children and young people affected by disasters in the UK.

Save the Children contacted Lancaster University after a group of researchers won an Economic and Social Research Council impact award for their research on the aftermath of the 2007 Hull floods.

"Recovery from floods has always focussed on the emergency response, but we looked at what happens when the emergency services leave. Essentially how the children, their families and their teachers coped in the long term," said Dr Marion Walker, from the Lancaster Environment Centre, who was the lead researcher working with children and young people affected by flooding.

Save the Children wanted to adapt a series of workshops, called Journey of Hope, which were developed in America to help children and young people deal with their feelings in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Save the Children knew they would have to change some of the language, games and songs used which were culturally specific, but they realised the Lancaster researchers could offer deeper insight into how British young people and children might respond. They asked the researchers to attend a week of trial workshops with two Save the Children facilitators from America.

The Lancaster team decided to spend a part of the £5000 prize money to enable three of them to attend the workshops and feed in from their experience. Marion went with colleagues Dr Hugh Deeming, now at Northumbria University, and Dr Will Medd.

"We could provide an evidence base," Marion explained. "I had run workshops with children in Hull, and later in Cumbria, who had lived through floods. I talked to them about what it had been like trying to cope with the changes that happened in their lives: moving house, often several times, and schools. So I could really think about whether the Journey of Hope workshops would work in the UK, if they fitted with what the children here said."

"We were very impressed with the workshops. There is a real need for something like this to help children to think about their emotions, their psycho social recovery, to deal with the feelings they have that they might be finding confusing."

Now Save the Children will be offering Journey of Hope to British children and young people following a disaster and have asked Marion to be one of the facilitators.

"The idea is that we will offer the workshops to schools and local authorities, not immediately after a disaster but six to 12 weeks later to help children to normalise their emotions. It is not specifically to talk about the disaster but to enable them to think about their fears and grief and encourage conversation, to let them know it's okay to feel anxious and that everybody worries about things," Marion said.

Dr Hugh Deeming has been asked to speak at a Save the Children emergency planning conference in November to bring the voices and needs of children to the notice of emergency planners. He has also been asked to join Save the Children's Journey of Hope Adaptation Panel.

"I have focused my research in the past few years on trying to improve UK civil protection practice during the period of recovery from a disaster," Hugh said.

"So I am delighted that Save the Children has taken the lead in developing ways of reducing the impact of disasters on children and young people. This is new and important work. The fact that the Lancaster team has been invited to assist in this endeavor is a source of great pride to me."

Daniel Dumbarton, UK Domestic Emergencies Manager for Save the Children, said: "The Lancaster team have been brilliant, their experience, insight and backgrounds have helped our work in psychosocial recovery and our adaptation of Journey of Hope," said

"Moreover the report, Hull Children's Flood Project, has helped shape our advocacy and our call to change policy to ensure that children and young people's needs are at the forefront of emergency planning.

"In fact it's a must read for delegates at the UN national dialogue on the Post 2015 Hyogo Framework for Action on disaster risk reduction, currently being hosted by the Cabinet Office."

Read the final report and the executive summary of the Hull Children's Flood Project and contact Marion (marion.walker@lancaster.ac.uk) for more details. For more information on Journey of Hope contact Daniel Dumbarton from Save the Children on d.dumbarton@savethechildren.org.uk.

Fri 15 November 2013