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Floods severely affect children and young people: it's time to stop ignoring their experience

Research with flood-affected children reveals serious impacts on wellbeing but also a desire to take on a role in flood risk management.

In a study funded by the ESRC, Lancaster University and Save the Children researchers found that factors impacting on children's wellbeing include:

  • loss of valued personal and family possessions, friendship networks, familiar spaces, education
  • experience of fear, anxiety, poverty, isolation, unfairness, destruction, stress, uncertainty, being ignored/misunderstood
  • lack of sleep and recreation
  • deterioration in diet, space and housing conditions
  • lack of flood education provision in schools for children and all staff.

But the research also shows that children play an important role in recovery from flood disasters, by helping families, neighbours and the wider community and they certainly do not want to be kept in the dark.

"Adults need to know that children become more scared and worried when they do not know what is happening," says Helena, aged 10.

The study shows that having an active role in flood risk management actually helps with children’s recovery.

Yet current flood and emergency planning policy either ignores children or positions them as 'vulnerable', rather than treating them as citizens in their own right. The report proposes children should be given more information before, during and after flooding because they have a right to know how to prepare, what to expect and how they can contribute.

Launched yesterday (22 September) in London at a meeting of policymakers, practitioners, and the insurance industry, 'Children, Young People and Flooding: Recovery and Resilience' details children's and young people's experiences of the UK winter 2013/14 floods.

Authors of the report Professor Maggie Mort, Dr Marion Walker, Dr Alison Lloyd Williams and Dr Amanda Bingley of Lancaster University and Virginia Howells Save the Children UK Emergencies Manager, worked with two groups of children: a primary age group in rural South Ferriby, Lincolnshire, where a tidal surge breached the banks of the Humber; and a high school group in urban Staines-upon-Thames, Surrey where the Government declared a state of emergency and the army was drafted in to assist emergency services cope with tidal, rainfall, river and groundwater flooding.

Six core themes emerged:

  • Children's feelings of isolation are connected with the long-term, ongoing impact of flooding - and there is a value in them getting together to share experiences.
  • A better understanding of children's strengths and vulnerabilities and arming them with better information before, during and after flooding enables them to be seen as active citizens and not passive victims.
  • There is a need for systematic and statutory flood education programme in schools and the wider community.
  • There is also a need for schools and the community to acknowledge and understand the range of losses experienced by children - for example: personal 'precious' items that embody memories, familiar spaces, friendships, social networks and loss of time.
  • Insurance companies must improve assessment and approach to repairs to acknowledge children’s needs. For example, living in temporary accommodation was worsened by a lack of space and, sometimes, having to relocate several times before returning home prolonged periods of uncertainty.
  • There is a need to recognise that flood-affected children actually have the experience to help themselves and others understand the measures that should be taken to prepare, protect and adapt to flooding - and the very clear message that all households need to make a proper flood plan.

"…people do kind of forget about what it was like a year ago… They forget it could happen again," says Daniel, aged 14.

The project resulted in the production of Children's and Young People's Manifestos, the staging of several stakeholder events, a six-minute film, Ten Tips for the Insurance Sector on how to better support flood-affected children and young people, and the development of a flood suitcase 'toolkit' for use in schools and youth centres.

Lead researcher, Professor Mort said: "Flooding is recognised as a major and chronic national hazard and it is time to recognise that children and young people are severely affected, yet still have no voice in policy that affects them. It is time to bring together the agencies that work on flood response, recovery and resilience to address their exclusion.

"These children and young people have issued a powerful and persuasive call to the Government and flood risk managers to 'join the dots' across departments and agencies. Their sustained work during this project was based on their own hard won experience. We hope that their efforts will be repaid by the Government and industry responses to this report."

Further information

Notes for editors

  • Copies of the embargoed report and further information can be obtained by contacting Maggie Mort (m.mort@lancaster.ac.uk) or Marion Walker (marion.walker@lancaster.ac.uk).
    Copies can also be downloaded from Lancaster University website.
  • The project aims were to:
    • understand children’s experiences of flooding, the impact on their lives, their resilience and the longer-term recovery process
    • discover how children can best be supported in a flood and how to enhance their resilience to future emergencies
    • influence flood and emergency policy and practice to better meet children’s needs and build their resilience.
  • The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.
  • Lancaster University is ranked among the top ten universities in the UK, coming nineth in the Complete University Guide and eighth in the Guardian. Eighty-three per cent of Lancaster’s research is judged to be internationally excellent and world leading.

 

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