International roundtable helps children recover from disaster

Nineteen mental health experts from Australia, UK, US, Norway, Germany and Canada gathered in Scotland on 21-22 October this year for a roundtable aimed at developing a protocol to help children and adolescents recover from trauma and disaster. The roundtable, led by Phoenix Australia and in collaboration with The Prince’s Trust Australia, was supported by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales.


This roundtable built on a previous meeting of international experts in November 2015 (read article here), at which an evidence-based recovery program for adults impacted by disaster was developed. That program, named InterPAR (International Program for Promoting Adjustment and Resilience after Disaster), has now been piloted in communities affected by bushfire in South Australia. InterPAR is a unique program, designed to be delivered by trained non-mental health specialists such as disaster responders, Red Cross or community volunteers, and community nurses. These ‘coaches’ receive training and supervision to deliver InterPAR to survivors who experience mild to moderate distress following a disaster. The pilot trial demonstrated very positive results, and showed this model to be both feasible and effective. The next step is to conduct larger randomised controlled trials in different settings around the world.


Childhood and adolescence are critical developmental stages and exposure to disaster and trauma has the potential to significantly impact a child’s development and long-term outcomes. The result may be ongoing emotional distress, poor relationships, poor school outcomes, and an increased risk of mental health problems. A post-disaster intervention that helps children and adolescents deal with their experiences will help facilitate their emotional recovery and minimise the negative impact of the trauma.


During the two-day roundtable discussions, participants developed a framework for a brief, early intervention, based on the ‘coach’ model. This approach will allow the intervention to be easily accessed by children and adolescents in schools and other local community settings. The next steps are to secure funding for the development of the program materials, and for a pilot trial in a location affected by recent disaster.


Director of Research at Phoenix Australia, Associate Professor Meaghan O’Donnell, said that, “The roundtable was a tremendous experience of collaboration between some of the world’s most experienced researchers and clinicians in the fields of child and adolescent mental health and disaster recovery. We were privileged to have the support of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, who was most supportive and engaged in the work of the group.


“The development of this intervention, in addition to the InterPAR program, is truly ground breaking in terms of mental health recovery after disaster around the world. I thank the participants of the roundtable for their time, enthusiasm, and commitment to this work.”


Roundtable participants:

Lucy Berliner, Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress, US
Kate Brady, Australian Red Cross, Australia
Professor Richard Bryant, University of New South Wales, Australia
Dr Vanessa Cobham, University of Queensland, Australia
Professor Mark Creamer, University of Melbourne, Australia
Professor Grete Dyb, University of Oslo, Norway
Professor David Forbes, Phoenix Australia, University of Melbourne, Australia
Associate Professor Lisa Gibbs, University of Melbourne, Australia
Professor Lutz Goldbeck, University of Ulm, Germany
Associate Professor Nancy Kassan-Adams, University of Pennsylvania, US
Professor Justin Kenardy, University of Queensland, Australia
Professor Brett McDermott, University of Queensland, Australia
Dr Richard Meiser-Stedman, University of East Anglia, UK
Associate Professor Karen Milligan, Ryerson University, Canada
Jane Nursey, Phoenix Australia, University of Melbourne, Australia
Elizabeth O’Connell, SYC Ltd, Australia
Associate Professor Meaghan O’Donnell, Phoenix Australia, University of Melbourne, Australia
Professor Richard Williams, University of South Wales, UK
Professor William Yule, King’s College London, UK


Thanks to our partners for facilitating the roundtable: The Prince’s Trust Australia, Pratt Foundation, Attorney-General’s Department, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and the University of Melbourne.