In early February, FCVic delivered a number of webinars to government staff and community service workers to improve their understanding of the role of financial counselling following a disaster, help them to identify the signs of financial stress, and provide them with resources to support disaster-affected residents to access assistance from their local financial counselling services. The ‘Navigating the financial impacts of disaster’ webinars, attended by a total of 93 participants, were well received and generated great questions from participants. We’re grateful to the financial counsellors and their agencies working in the Flood Recovery Program for supporting the webinar deliveries.
The webinars highlighted the importance of networking and information sharing to support community recovery following a disaster. It became somewhat of a theme for me last month when I had the privilege to be invited by Financial Counselling Australia (FCA) to attend an intensive two-day training workshop in Ballina, with a disaster recovery focus specific to floods.
It’s been a year since the catastrophic flooding of the Northern Rivers, South East Queensland and the Hawkesbury River and impossible to forget the media footage of the shocking and devastating impacts on Lismore and other ravaged communities. As an example, this resulted in over $2.5 billion in insurance claims being incurred in NSW, with 96,000 claims lodged and 1400 homes completely destroyed. Meanwhile, local financial counsellors continue to have steady caseloads, and are still outreaching into their communities, finding struggling locals who weren’t aware of the service.
Insurance issues dominated the program, with Ma’ata Solofini, Senior Solicitor Disaster Response at NSW Legal Aid; Paul Watson, partner at Berrill Watson Lawyers; and April Blair, Ombudsman AFCA, walking us through the complexity, processes and timeframes that disaster recovery specialist financial counsellors and clients face in the aftermath. Whilst the complexity was head spinning, it was rich with opportunity for financial counsellors to better understand how to undertake disputes, challenge delays, support clients considering cash settlements or unhappy with assessments, and lots of helpful tips to be aware of.
Other content included working with CALD clients and communities; applying a trauma-informed approach; ensuring self-care to prevent vicarious trauma and burnout; and a presentation by the NSW Government on their Resilient Homes Program, about to roll out to eligible homeowners. An impactful and inspiring presentation was delivered by Elly Bird, the Executive Director of Resilient Lismore, a voluntary community led organisation responding to the disaster. Elly shared about the enormous extent of work being done by volunteers, coordinating donations, and supporting flood survivors with meals, information, home repairs and various other supports – on the ground before many services had re-established or government assistance came in, reminding us of the importance of leaders, champions, and community led recovery. A big take home was how essential it is to be connected in with the community.
The training was a terrific networking opportunity, and the reinforcement of the value of communities of practice for peer support; tapping into resources and sharing across the sector. Sincere gratitude goes to Peter Gartlan, Vicki Staff and Vanessa Hood from FCA for all their planning and coordination of this successful event. I’m looking forward to building my learnings into the FCVic disaster recovery training calendar content over the coming months, to support new and continuing financial counsellors who are active in this space, and generalists interested in building their knowledge.