Kids can teach parents about bushfire risk

Children are good channels for getting fire safety messages into homes, according to new research.

Briony Towers, a research psychologist at the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre and University of Tasmania, investigated, for the first time, how children understood and talked about bushfires.

She will present her results at the Pathfinders 2010: Challenge and Change Conference at the Alice Springs Convention Centre next week (May 26–28).

Ms Towers did in-depth interviews with 250 children aged between five and 17 at schools in bushfire-prone regions of Victoria and Tasmania. To gauge the influence of family on children’s perceptions, and vice versa, she also interviewed parents.

Children named firefighters as their most important information source, but the research showed that parents had a bigger influence.

Surprisingly, Ms Towers’ research showed that children exerted a powerful influence on parents’ decisions and actions on emergency plans for fires that begin in the home. Many parents reported that when children initiated housefire escape plans as a result of school programs, they could not ignore the message.

This child-to-parent line of communication is now being tapped to get bushfire safety messages into homes.

The study formed the basis of a new, 10-part animated bushfire safety program, “Li’l Safety Club”. Pitched at young television, radio and internet audiences, the program was broadcast on all free-to-air networks in south-eastern Australia last summer. It was designed to raise children’s awareness and stimulate discussion of bushfire safety within families.

The research has also lain the foundations for emergency services to develop school-based bushfire education programs like those for housefire education, Ms Towers said.

Ms Towers is one of eight early career scientists invited to present their research results at the Pathfinders Conference, organised by the Cooperative Research Centres Association. The CRCA represents Australia’s 50 CRCs operating under a federal government program to drive public/private sector research.

See the conference program at www.crca.asn.au/conference

Information:

Briony Towers Ph: 0400 543 336

CRCA Media Ph: 0419 250 815; Email: [email protected]

Laurelle Halford (Alice Springs Convention Centre, May 26–28)

Ph: 0417 222 211