Children's own perspectives on the Christchurch quakes

Sep 13, 2012

The ways that school-age children experienced the after-effects of the Christchurch earthquakes have been documented in a new University of Otago study.

Geography Associate Professor Claire Freeman and colleagues Megan Gollop in the University's Centre for Research on and Families, the Centre Director, Associate Professor Nicola Taylor, Dr Karen Nairn from the College of Education and Ros Herbison -  set out to give voice to the children's' experiences of relocation and dislocation after the .

They talked with 38 primary school, 38 Intermediate and 18 secondary school-age – 94 in total – whose lives were disrupted as a result of the Christchurch earthquakes.

Interviewed six to nine months after the February 2011 quake, the children were living in Dunedin, Central Otago or Christchurch.

All but eight had experienced some form of relocation, having to leave their homes either temporarily or more long-term. Nearly half of the children had moved to Dunedin or Central Otago and were currently enrolled in schools there. The remainder had experienced relatively short-term temporary moves within Christchurch or to another location before returning to the city.

Researchers found that by far the majority of the children left their homes as a result of the February quake. Most of the moves were sudden, unplanned and occurred either the same day or one to two days after the earthquake. Reasons for leaving included their house or land being unsafe or uninhabitable, a lack of services, or for education reasons. Many children said the move was due to the stress of the earthquake and ongoing aftershocks.

Associate Professor Freeman says the preliminary findings show that the children who left Christchurch experienced a huge sense of loss, in some cases leaving family members, friends, pets, belongings, their homes, schools and communities behind. The suddeness of these moves meant that children had very little time to say goodbye to friends.

"What also came through was the sheer complexity of the children's situations; how they rarely experienced a simple A to B move.

"Some had to move multiple times, with members of their families going in different directions. We found this was particularly hard on families where living arrangements were already complex, such as for those whose parents were separated," she says.

The types of accommodation they moved to included tents in the backyard, camping ground accommodation, relatives (by far the largest group), friends, others' holiday houses and motels and rental accommodation. On only 28 occasions, the children eventually moved back to their original house. For the majority of the children who left homes one or both parents made the decision.

"For some families there really was no alternative but for parents to make the decision to move, but also we found that young people needed to have more of a voice when it came to talking about how the earthquakes and moving away from Christchurch were impacting on them," she says.

"The effect of the earthquakes was long lasting. Recurrent earthquakes kept the trauma alive for families, as did moving and changing scenarios with the state of their homes. Some children have had to deal with the fact that they didn't know and, in some cases, may still not know whether the move is temporary or not," Dr Freeman says.

The young people answered that the most difficult aspects of moving were leaving friends and family behind, the education differences in the new places they went to and adjusting to their new location. Many still thought of Christchurch as home and would like to live there again in the future.

However, the majority of those children who had moved relatively permanently had settled in well to their new communities and schools. They were relieved to be away from the and enjoyed new experiences and making new friends.

"Without downplaying the impact on them, the children still showed a huge amount of resilience and strength," she says.

The team also talked to 20 teachers, principals and an administrator from schools where -affected children had enrolled, often at short notice.

The strong message that came from the school staff was that they saw their main job as keeping children safe and providing a 'normalising' environment while the parents sorted out their lives.

Explore further: Learning at 10 degrees north

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Relationship between two recent New Zealand earthquakes

Sep 26, 2011

The relationship between two earthquakes that took place near Christchurch, New Zealand, in September 2010 and February 2011 is examined in a paper published in Scientific Reports. The findings suggest that t ...

Experiences of migrant children: At home abroad

May 09, 2012

Schools, local councils and professionals need better guidance and training to work with migrant families from Eastern Europe and their children, according to new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council ...

Breastfeeding protects against asthma up to six years of age

Feb 10, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- Research by the University of Otago in Christchurch and Wellington has shown that breastfeeding of infants has a clear protective effect against children developing asthma or wheezing up to six years of ...

Recommended for you

Power can corrupt even the honest

5 hours ago

When appointing a new leader, selectors base their choice on several factors and typically look for leaders with desirable characteristics such as honesty and trustworthiness. However once leaders are in power, can we trust ...

Learning at 10 degrees north

6 hours ago

Secluded beaches, calypso music and the entertaining carnival are often what come to mind when thinking of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. But Dal Earth Sciences students might first consider Trinidad's ...

How to find the knowns and unknowns in any research

7 hours ago

Have you ever felt overloaded by information? Ever wondered how to make sense of claims and counter-claims about a topic? With so much information out there on many different issues, how is a person new to ...

Minorities energize US consumer market, according to report

7 hours ago

The buying power of minority groups in the U.S. has reached new heights and continues to outpace cumulative inflation, according to the latest Multicultural Economy Report from the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the ...

User comments : 0