Dr Susie O’Neill works with children who are survivors of trauma, supporting their health and wellbeing to lay a path for a better future.
She talks about her foundation, and how we can all help to make the world a better place for our kids.
What inspired you to start the KIDS foundation?
Early in my teaching career, I took my kindergarten group to an aged care centre where I met a young boy being rehabilitated in the facility and sleeping in a ward with elderly men. I was compelled to do something. In 1993 the Foundation was established to support children and young people with horrific injuries and trauma caused by burns, accidents, dog attacks, crime, neglect, abuse, and environmental events. In 2003 at the same aged care centre, I helped create a child friendly facility that today supports approximately 650 children each year. The first young boy to stay there was a burn survivor. When it was time for him to return home there were limited support networks, so I created one – the National Burn Survivors Network.
Tell me about the prevention programs. What are your main aims when interacting with the schools and education services?
The prevention programs educate and empower children to build a strong sense of identity and wellbeing so that they can keep themselves and others safe, while still allowing them to be kids. We educate children through the KIDS Foundation’s mascot Seemore, and the spread of resources. In 2021 we distributed 465,000 books to children aged 4 to 6 years.
How has being a mum and a qualified teacher changed your perspective on the issues faced by these children?
Being a mum, nanny, and a qualified teacher has shown me just how amazing and curious our children are. They have so much to give, and so much to say. If we empower them through lots of different support options and experiences they can build self-worth, wellbeing, respectful relationships, values, and behaviours that will allow them to become responsible contributors to society.
How important is it to give children agency in their own wellbeing? Do you think it needs to be taught more widely?
It’s very important to give children agency. They’re powerful educators, and can contribute to a more positive society. By combining independence and guidance, there’s no telling what our children are capable of. By teaching this more widely, we can ensure that our children are physically robust, mentally tough and emotionally connected.
One of your upcoming books, When bad things happen…good things can grow, deals with survivor stories from people who’ve suffered trauma, abuse, and burns. What have these first-hand accounts taught you about life-changing injuries?
The children and young people we work with have the most uplifting stories of transformation, determination, and resilience. Working with hundreds of survivors of unbelievable trauma has shown me the capability for individuals to have incredible courage and strength.
Your other upcoming book, Let Kids be Kids, is a guide for parents and caregivers trying to give their children a voice. How can we as a community better support our children and their wellbeing?
A lack of independence, the loss of physical connection with others, and increased screen time can affect the well-being of our kids. If we don’t address this, we might be encouraging a generation lacking in emotional, social, and physical skills they need to be competent adults. Thinking about a child’s wellbeing, health and happiness can enrich their lives and experiences. This can be achieved by encouraging our children to do things for themselves, and letting them explore the world.
What’s next for you and your foundation?
The next project is very much centred around the horse-human connection and the role it can play in positive mental health and wellbeing in Australian children. The program addresses the mental health issues experienced by children following traumatic events through an equine therapeutic concept that will deliver services, and resources for improving childhood wellbeing founded on strong research-based evidence.
My other dream is to open a SeeMore’s Early Learning Centre for little people, offering a unique and innovative ‘Pre-Prep’ school readiness program. The program would specialise in providing support to the children who need it most.
The KIDS foundation is doing some great work. For more on Aussies making a difference, click here.