Positive Schools WA, QLD & VIC – Day Two Main Stage Talk

Surviving Natural Disaster – where are we now and what have we learnt?

Kerry Stirling, Good Grief General Manager;  Mary-Ellen O’Donoghue, Good Grief CEO; Melinda Phillips, Good Grief Representative.










About Good Grief

Good Grief is delighted to be part of the Positive Schools Conferences in 2012 which offer educators an opportunity to explore new ways of improving outcomes for children and young people.

Good Grief is a company established to provide education programs for children, young people, and adults challenged by loss and change. Our mission is to educate to build resilience and foster wellbeing. Nationally over 4,000 Companions have been trained to facilitate our flagship program, Seasons for Growth groups. The recently developed program, Stormbirds: Growing through Natural Disaster has been used with success after the bushfires in Victoria in 2009, the floods and cyclone in Queensland and Christchurch earthquake in 2011. The new and revised edition of the Seasons for Growth Adult Program was launched in October 2011. Good Grief conducts regular research into the effectiveness of its programs. The most recent study of 334 children and young people aged 6-16 years in 57 Seasons for Growth groups across six regions in Australia, New Zealand and Scotland was completed in May 2011. Good Grief successfully partnered with Southern Cross University, the Catholic Schools Office of Lismore and Interrelate to gain an Australian Research Council grant to examine “Improving approaches to wellbeing in schools: what role does recognition play?” For more information about our programs and research see our website .


Perth Presentation Overview – Surviving Natural Disasters – What Have We learned?

Change is a natural part of life. Whether the experience of change or loss is caused by a bereavement, family break-up, change of school, change of friends, change in the workplace or a  natural disaster, our work and our research has shown the importance of giving children and young people a voice and an opportunity to discuss the impact of the changes or losses on their lives. Developing skills in emotional literacy are important building blocks for helping children describe how they feel about change and to learn how to manage their feelings. In this presentation we will share the lessons we have learnt from our work with children after the recent natural disasters in Victoria and Queensland. Key to understanding the full impact of these events and how to build resilient communities is to ponder not only the immediate effects of the loss of life and property, but also the rippling effects of the disaster on family life, employment, community activities, and many other issues. In these situations, we have learnt that a school staff often needs support in order to help children and young people cope with the change and loss experienced. Research has also shown that schools are important agents in helping children deal with these events. This presentation will draw on Good Grief’s experience and contemporary research in the area of improving children and young people’s wellbeing.


Brisbane Presentation Overview – After the Floods

In the wake of the floods in southern Queensland and cyclone Yasi in the north, Good Grief offered Stormbirds: Growing through Natural Disasters to the Queensland Education Department for implementation in schools in the affected areas. Queensland Health through the Disaster Recovery Committee, chaired by Dr McDermott, officially approved the program as part of its broader mental health strategy of assisting children and young people after the floods, particularly in the Lockyer Valley.

Lessons from our Victorian bushfire experience were implemented and a number of schools took up the program. Data from this implementation will be available at the conference. Early data demonstrates the positive impact of Stormbirds. There are also some strong lessons emerging about program coordination and timing. In this presentation the key elements of the Stormbirds program will be outlined, and supported by contemporary research the methods of educating children to build social and emotional wellbeing and resilience outlined.


Melbourne Presentation Overview – After the Fires

In 2009 Australia was shocked by the incredible fires in central and southern Victoria, completely wiping out some small towns and causing the tragic death of 173 people. Using material trialled in Canberra after fires destroyed 500 homes and also led to tragic loss of life good Grief developed a small group peer based program entitled Stormbirds: Growing through Natural Disasters, which was offered to school children in the affected communities. Many lessons were learnt from this experience and will be shared in this session. Stormbirds had a positive impact wherever it has been implemented.

Giving children a voice is a most important step in building resilience, as sometimes children are overlooked when families are under great stress, especially as parents desperately try to cope with their own feelings and with day to day survival. Our experience highlighted the importance of supporting school staff, particularly if they themselves have been impacted by the disaster and they need to understand and manage their own feelings before supporting the children. Schools are very important places at these times and can significantly assist children to build their resilience. We have also learnt valuable lessons about program coordination, timing, training people to work with the children and young people and the importance of networks of support.

Using these findings and the benefits of contemporary research this session will draw out the elements of the program which have had a positive impact in building social and emotional wellbeing and resilience in children and young people.