Far from home – managing burns with children from developing countries

Heidi Cable

Social Work Department, Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital, 501 Stanley Street, South Brisbane, Queensland, 4101. heidi.cable@health.qld.gov.au

Children impacted by paediatric burns are already vulnerable to numerous psychosocial complexities.  When a child and their family come from a detention centre, refugee camp or a developing country those risk factors are escalated.  Politics, media, social justice, isolation, language barriers and poverty are some of the compounding factors that need to be taken into consideration when planning interventions and the hospital admission.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is Australia’s nearest neighbour, yet our standards of health care are worlds apart. According to the World Health Organisation, PNG has the worst health status in the Pacific region. Imagine living in a remote village in PNG and your child has just sustained a significant burn injury. Your only choice is to get in a boat that you and your fellow villagers made and travel 30 minutes to the closest island. This is a matter of life and death. You have never left your village let alone travelled in a car, the next thing you know you have travel via boat, plane and helicopter to arrive in a Brisbane hospital met by a sea of unfamiliar faces. You then are told you and the child will need to stay in Australia for burns treatment for the next 4-6 months.

This presentation will focus on one case study of a 9 year old PNG boy that received lifesaving treatment for burns he sustained whilst hunting a bandicoot. The complexities of this case will be explored and presented from a social work perspective.

Key Words

Developing countries, complex psychosocial issues


I am the Senior Social Worker for the Pegg Leditschke Children’s Burns Centre at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital. I have worked in the burns unit for three years and am passionate about working with children and adolescents who have complex social needs. I continue to enjoy working with children and families around adjustment to life after a burn injury including self image and coping with public interest. This led me into research into this area where I lead the project of developing videos for adolescents to assist with their long term adjustment.

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