Paediatric camps to support recovery and well-being of young people with burn injuries in Queensland

James Neill, Arron Sullivan, Megan Simons

Session type: Regular forum session
Session duration: 60 minutes

Key words: adventure therapy, health conditions, children, burns


There is no known Australian research about the psychosocial processes and effects of camp experiences for youth adapting to burn injury, and there is limited research internationally.

This session reports on two studies which help to address these gaps. The Camp Oz program for youth with burn injury has been conducted annually through the burns unit at the Queensland Children’s Hospital in collaboration with the Police-Citizens Youth Club (PCYC) Bornhoffen, Queensland, for more than 10 years.

Children and adolescents with burn injuries are a vulnerable population. They are at greater risk of psychological and social problems than healthy controls. Recovery journeys are influenced by a complex interplay of pre-burn (e.g., age, gender, and personality), burn (e.g., severity, location, and event), and post-burn factors (e.g., quality of life, self-confidence, social support, body image, mood, and hope), and developmental challenges. In addition, time away from school and extracurricular activities can result in fewer opportunities to develop social skills, peer rejection, and bullying.

Paediatric camping programs conducted for those who face similar injury or illness challenges offers an innovative form of psychosocial intervention. For example, there have been Australian camp programs conducted for those recovering from cancer, HIV, and acquired brain injury. Such programs typically aim to promote psychological, physical, and social growth through residential experiences which involve challenging activities and social interaction.

Evidence about the impact of therapeutic camp participation on psychosocial functioning is promising. For example, oncology camps appear to improve participants’ cancer knowledge, mood, self-esteem and self-concept, empathy, social acceptance and friendship, quality of life, hope, and emotional well-being. However, there is limited knowledge about the psychosocial processes and effects of therapeutic camp programs for youth who have experienced burn injury.

Residential camps for youth who have experienced burn injury have been conducted since at least the 1990s. Qualitative research indicates psychosocial benefits, with positive outcomes reported by campers, parents, and staff for coping skills around burns, appearance-related confidence, social skills, and increased independence. Quantitative studies have focused on the impact of burns camps on self-esteem, with inconsistent results. Possible explanations include small sample sizes and a lack of sensitivity and specificity in the measures used.

Results from two new Australian studies will be discussed; they use:
1. mixed methods to examine the short-term processes and impacts of residential camps for youth with burns injury.
2. long-term retrospective follow-up interviews of burns camp participants and their carers from up to 10 years ago.

About the presenter/s

James Neill is an Assistant Professor in the Centre for Applied Psychology, University of Canberra where he teaches Motivation and Emotion, facilitates work-integrated learning for undergraduate psychology students, and convenes Master in Clinical Psychology research projects. James’ research interest is in measurement of psychological change, particularly program evaluation of psychological interventions, including adventure therapy and outdoor education.

Arron Sullivan is the Leadership Development Manager at Police Citizens Youth Clubs Bornhoffen operation. Arron has been involved in experiential and adventure based programs since 1995 and has worked with the Children’s Health Queensland partnership since 2008. Arron’s interest is facilitation practice with a particular focus on the positive health impacts for young people.

Megan Simons is a Senior Lecturer is the University of Queensland’s Child Health Research Centre and an Occupational Therapist in the Burns Unit at the Children’s Health Queensland Hospital. Megan has been organising camps for children with burns for more than 10 years.