Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis from ANU is aiming to fill a gap for information tailored towards young children, immigrants, refugees, and other vulnerable groups who were exposed to bushfire smoke last summer.

The Australian National University (ANU) is calling for parents, carers and teachers to share their experiences of the ‘black summer’ bushfires to help produce a children’s book about bushfire smoke and health impacts.

ANU researchers are looking for adults who speak English, Turkish, Arabic or Persian to contribute through voluntary 15-minute interviews, to produce a resource that will help children cope with bushfire conditions like the smoke that blanketed the ACT over parts of summer.

“Last summer was a whole new world for children,” said Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis, from the ANU Research School of Population Health.

“Parents may have been stressed, people were wearing face masks and young people couldn’t go out to play. All those changes are difficult to internalise and digest.

“We want this book to be ready for the next summer season to help children cope better with these kinds of situations.”

Professor Vardoulakis said while there was a lot of educational material available for adults, there was very little tailored towards “young children, immigrants, refugees, and other vulnerable groups, which were exposed to the smoke and had to alter their daily behaviour to protect their health”.

“People who have experienced the last bushfire season with children have a story to tell. We want to hear it and shape it into a story we can share with everyone.”

The book will be a chance for children to discuss what they have been through, according to director of the Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma, Loss and Grief Network, Nicola Palfrey.

“The end result will be an accessible story book about smoke exposure, which parents or caregivers can read with their kids to talk about these things,” she said.  

“We are often asked how to talk to children about traumatic events. This story book will be a great mechanism for families to start a conversation.”

The researchers are hoping to service vulnerable groups by drawing on expertise from across the campus, including from the ANU Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies. The Centre’s director, Associate Professor Karima Laachir, said the project will appeal to children and parents from diverse backgrounds.

“The children’s story book project on bushfire smoke will be inclusive of Australia’s multicultural society and sensitive to the needs of various multilingual communities around the country.”

For more information, visit the project website.

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