Defining a critical incident: – is any incident or sequence of events which overwhelms the ordinary coping mechanisms of the school and disrupts the running of the school. Examples of crises affecting the Riversdale school community could be, the death of a member of the school community through sudden death, accident, terminal illness or suicide, an accident involving staff or students on or off site, physical attack on staff member(s) or student(s) or intrusion into the school, serious damage to the school building through fire, flood, vandalism, disappearance of a member of the school community, an accident or tragedy in the wider community.
Critical incident management team:- The critical incident management team in Riversdale Community College comprises of a group of staff members with practical skills which can be drawn upon in the event of a critical incident arising. The team will meet annually in September to review the plan. The following staff members form the critical incident management team for this academic year:-
Leadership Role:- Mr. Barry (in the event of Mr. Barry not being available, Mr. Fennessy assumes the role. If both principal and deputy are away from the school the team assistant principals assume the role
Counselling Role:- Ms. Mulhall.
Family Liaison Role:- Mr. McDaniel.
Chaplaincy Role:- Ms. S. Robinson. (Local clergy and other spiritual leaders are also available to support.)
Communication Role:-Ms. B. McLaughlin.
Within the school staff the following teachers are qualified and available to provide counselling services:-Ms. A. Mulhall. A network of guidance counsellors in other Dublin 15 schools are also on call to assist in the provision of counselling support.
Dublin Education and Training Board, Psychological Support Service are also on call to assist.
Key administrative tasks in the critical incident management process:-
It is imperative that an up to date list of contact numbers be maintained and regularly update numbers for students, parents/guardians, staff, and emergency support services. Ms B. McLaughlin has undertaken to draw up this list and will be updated on an ongoing basis.
These lists are to be kept in the main office.
Procedures to be followed in the event of a critical incident (Day One)
- Information: – Gather accurate information about the incident, what happened, where, when, extent of injuries, location of those injured/not injured, how many involved and their names, what agencies have been contacted already.
- Appropriate agencies Examples of agencies that could be contacted include, emergency services, medical services, psychological services, Board of Management, E.T.B (see appendix 7)
- Convene a meeting of the critical incident management team:- The agenda for the meeting could include the following (1) Agree a statement of facts for the staff, students and parents. (2) Ensure that Co. Dublin VEC are advised of the situation (3) Delegate responsibility to the Critical Management Team (4) Ensure a phone line remains open to deal with enquires from all concerned parties (5) Organise time table for the day, it is important to adhere to normal school routine as far as possible (6) Organise a staff meeting and arrange for supervision of students during the staff meeting (7) Decide if an outside professional is to be invited to the staff meeting.
- Arrange supervision of students:-
- Hold a staff meeting:- All staff should be invited to attend this meeting including Caretaking staff, Special Needs Assistants, School Completion, Office Staff etc. Items to be covered at the staff meeting include (1) An account of the facts as known (2) An opportunity for the staff to express their views and feelings (3) Establish an agreed approach on how the facts will be shared with students, parents. (4) An outline of the schedule for the day (5) Give information to staff relating to the outside agencies and others involved and the supports being put in place for students, staff and parents. (6) Vulnerable students to be identified. (7) Relevant handout material to be distributed.
- (Appropriate material is kept on file in the critical incident file in the main guidance office.)
- Organise timetable for the day.
- As far as possible maintain normal routines. This procedure is based on sound psychological reasoning which is a practical and appropriate coping mechanism in the event of a critical incident taking place.
- Inform parents/guardians of (a) children directly involved and (b) parents of children not directly involved.
- Children directly involved:-
- Critical incident team agree who should share information with parents and how this should be done.
- To avoid duplication make a list of parents already contacted and those who must still be contacted.
- The information shared must be relevant, factual and practical.
- The Parents’ Room/HSCL office is to be set aside for distressed students to meet with their parents/guardians. Room 29 may be used in the event of a larger venue being required.
- All staff should be mindful of parents who are on their own when they arrive in the school and please ensure that they are supported.
- Give telephone numbers for enquiries.
- Children not directly involved:
- The parents of other children in the school should be informed of the incident and that their child may be upset.
- Send a letter to parents stating the facts and brief details of the incident.
- It may not be appropriate at this point to disclose the names of those involved. (See Appendix 8 for sample letter).
Careful preparation is important when meeting students to inform them of a critical incident.
Consideration should be given to the age of the pupils and the optimum group size. It is best to do it in class groups or sub-groups. The suitability of the ‘messenger’ should also be considered, remembering that it is generally thought that support is best given by the adults known to the child.
In our case this should be a tutor, year head, guidance counsellor or any other teacher who may know or have a special relationship with the class. If at all possible the teacher should be accompanied by another professional and not meet the class on his/her own.
The key points/actions in the process are listed below.
- Give facts and avoid speculation. This will help to dispel rumours which can cause unnecessary stress.
- Allow pupils to ask questions, tell their story and express feelings.
- Help students realise that overwhelming emotions are natural and normal following a critical incident.
(See Resource Documents in appendix 1, 2 and 3 on reactions to grief and critical incidents.)
Make contact with the bereaved family
Dealing with the media
It is the role of the principal to deal with the media. (Or should the principal so direct this role may be delegated to another staff member or to D.D.L.E.T.B. Head office). Any other staff member who speaks to the media will be speaking in a personal capacity and will not be representing the school or the agreed procedures within the critical incident plan.
Prepare a written statement to include:
• the facts about the incident
• what has been done already
• what is going to be done
• positive information or comments about the deceased person.
Some points to remember if you are asked to give a live interview:
- consider assigning the task to someone skilled or familiar with dealing with the media
- take some time to prepare
- remember that everything you say is on record and, therefore, keep it simple, factual and brief
- decline if you are not ready or think it inappropriate.
Consider setting aside a room for the media. This may help to control their access to staff and students.
Brief staff and students and advise them on dealing with the media.
Organise the reunion of students with their parents, if necessary
- Inform students that their parents/guardians will be collecting them as soon as possible.
- Facilitate distressed students and their parents by providing a private room where they can meet following an incident. This could be a very emotional time.
- Where appropriate offer help with transport, especially for younger children.
Summary Checklist for Principals
- Gather the facts – Who? What? When? and Where?
- Contact appropriate agencies or delegate this to key staff.
- Convene the Critical Incident Management Team.
- Organise for the supervision of students.
- Inform staff .
- Agree on a statement of the facts.
- Identify high risk students.
- Appoint someone to deal with phone enquiries.
- Organise timetable for the day.
MAINTAIN THE NORMAL (Timetabled) SCHOOL ROUTINE WHEN AT ALL POSSIBLE (This is particularly important and will assist with the grieving process).
- Inform parents/guardians.
- Inform students.
- Make contact with the bereaved family.
- Organise support.
- Respond to the media.
MEDIUM-TERM ACTIONS (24 – 72 Hours)
Review the events of the first 24 hours
- Re-convene Critical Incident Management Team and other key staff members who may have become specifically involved.
- Briefly check out how each person on this team is coping.
- Decide arrangements for support meetings for parents/students/staff.
- Decide on mechanism for feedback from teachers on vulnerable students.
- Have review staff meeting with all staff if necessary. Ensure all staff are kept up to date on any developments.
- Be sensitive as to how all staff are coping on a personal and professional level.
- Establish contact with absent staff and pupils.
- Update media, if necessary.
Arrange support for individual students, groups of students, and parents, if necessary
- Provide a suitable room. Room 8 will be made available.
- Hold support/information meeting for parents/students in order to clarify what has happened.
- Offer advice and reassurance. Inform them about support services and provide relevant handouts. (See Resource Documents in Appendix ).
- Any teacher who feels uncomfortable with involvement in support meetings has the choice of opting out.
- Arrange, in consultation with outside agencies, individual or group debriefings or support meetings with parental permission. See Appendix 4 for sample letter for parental consent.
Plan for the reintegration of students and staff
(e.g. absentees, injured, siblings, close relatives etc.)
- Name key person(s) to liaise with above on their return to school.
Plan visits to injured
- Key person(s) to visit home/hospital would be any member of the Critical incident Team, year head, tutor, or other staff who may have a specific relationship or role.
Liaise with the family regarding funeral arrangements/memorial
- Designate staff member to liaise with family, to extend sympathy and clarify the family’s wishes regarding the school’s involvement in funeral/memorial service. This liaison role should be undertaken by HSCL and/or Chaplain.
- Arrange a home visit by two staff representatives within 24 hours, if appropriate.
- Have regard for different religious traditions and faiths.
- Attendance and participation at funeral/memorial service
- Decide this in accordance with parents’ wishes and school management decisions and in consultation with close school friends.
- Request a decision on this from school management.
LONGER TERM ACTIONS
Monitor students for signs of continuing distress
A referral to outside agencies through the Riversdale guidance service may be necessary.
Reactions to a Critical Incident.
For example, if over a prolonged period of time, a student continues to display the following, he/she may need assistance from :
- uncharacteristic behaviour.
- deterioration in academic performance.
- physical symptoms – e.g. weight loss/gain; lack of attention to appearance; tiredness; restlessness.
- inappropriate emotional reactions.
- increased absenteeism.
Evaluate response to incident and amend the Critical Incident Management Plan appropriately
- What went well?
- Where were the gaps?
- What was most/least helpful?
- Have all necessary onward referrals to support services been made?
- Is there any unfinished business?
Formalise the Critical Incident Plan for the future
- Consult with D.D.L.E.T.B. psychologists, and all relevant personnel involved about this.
Inform new staff/new school pupils affected by Critical Incidents
- Ensure that new staff are aware of the school policy and procedures in this area.
- Ensure they are aware of which pupils were affected in any recent incident and in what way.
- When individual pupils or a class of pupils affected by an incident are transferring to a new school, it would be useful to brief the Principal of the new school.
Decide on appropriate ways to deal with anniversaries
(be sensitive to special days and events)
- Anniversaries may trigger emotional responses in students/staff and they may need additional support at this time.
- Acknowledge the anniversary with the family and liaise on any proposed commemoration.
- Be sensitive to significant days like Birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day.
The following is taken from NEPS booklet “Responding to Critical Incidents:-Advise and Information Pack for Schools”
DEALING WITH THE AFTERMATH OF A SUICIDE OR SUSPECTED SUICIDE
When a person dies through suicide, those who know the person experience a deep sense of shock. The unexpectedness of the death and the taboo associated with suicide can leave a school community feeling unsure of how to proceed. Again, the key to this is planning.
The term ‘suicide’ should not be used until it has been “established categorically that the student’s or teacher’s death was as a result of suicide” (ASTI Guidelines 1997). The phrases ‘tragic death’ or ‘sudden death’ may be used instead.
The following is a guide to how a school can support the bereaved family, school staff and students.
- A staff member should contact the family to establish the exact facts and the family’s wishes about how the death should be described.
- Acknowledge their grief and loss.
- Organise a home visit by two staff members.
- Consult with the family regarding the appropriate support from the school e.g. at the funeral service.
- Convene a staff meeting to brief staff on the above details. It may be necessary to do this in two shifts therefore ensuring staff are available for support to students and for cover at all times. Remember to include auxiliary staff.
- Students need to be with people they know and trust. If possible, it is better if the teachers provide support for the students. The external “expert” visitor should therefore be primarily used to brief the teachers.
- Help teachers to prepare for breaking the news to students. Close friends and relatives of the deceased in the school need to be told first. This needs to be done in a private location.
- Outline the possible reactions.*
- Give them information from the schools pack on dealing with the students in the classroom and on reactions to grief.
- Identify high-risk students and what supports are available.
- Remind them of the school’s critical incident plan.
- Decide on the strategy to deal with queries from parents/guardians. Prepare a letter setting out the facts, how the school is dealing with the events and how parents or guardians can support their child.
- Ensure that a quiet place can be made available for students/staff.
- Hold further staff briefings during the day to update information, to offer support and to further identify high-risk students.
* See Resource documents Appendix 3. for Reactions to Grief. See also Sample Letter to Parents (1).
- Give the facts as they are known.
- Create a safe and supportive space for the students where they can share their reactions and feelings.
- Advise them on their possible reactions over the next few days (see Resource document 4.5).
- Avoid glorifying the victim and sensationalising the suicide.
- Advise the students of the support that is available to them.
- Take any talk of suicide seriously and provide support or refer on immediately.
- Students may wish to confide in and seek support from each other rather than adults. Facilitate this if appropriate and if it is possible. However, information should be provided about how to get further help if they, or their friends, should need it.
Indicators of high risk students
- Close friends and relatives of the deceased
- Pupils with a history of suicide attempts/self harm
- Pupils who experienced a recent loss, death of a friend or relative, family divorce or separation, break-up with a boyfriend/girlfriend
- Pupils who have been bereaved by a suicide in the past
- Pupils with a psychiatric history
- Pupils with a history of substance abuse
- Pupils with a history of sexual abuse
- Non-communicative pupils who have difficulty talking about their feelings
- Pupils experiencing serious family difficulties, including serious mental or physical illness
- Less able students.
Schools should be vigilant around the time of the inquest and the anniversary of the student’s death.
Assessing for suicide potential
This is a brief note indicating how to go about making an immediate assessment as to whether a student is at risk.
Where there is a serious question mark or concern about a student, then referral should be made to a person trained in risk assessment.
Have a sensitive but direct and open discussion with the student.
If a student has been reported to be talking about suicide, they should be asked openly “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” This will offer the student the opportunity to talk about their feelings and their thoughts. If they affirm that they have been thinking about it, then this should be explored by raising the following issues with the student.
Previous attempt: Has the student attempted suicide before? You might ask “Have you ever tried to harm yourself before?” If the answer to this is “Yes”, then the risk increases.
Personal/family history: The level of risk increases with the number and seriousness of family difficulties e.g. parental separation, recent bereavement, serious illness etc.
Physical/emotional history: A student who has experienced major personal difficulties, whether as a result of physical (recent hospitalisation, chronic illness) or significant emotional difficulties (depression, loneliness, guilt, anger etc.) is more at risk.
Plan: Does the student have a plan, for example, has written suicide notes, has a particular day in mind to carry out the act, has a gun, or pills to take? The more concrete the plan the more serious the threat.
Means: Does the student have the means and place to do it. Are the means available lethal? Will the student be in a place where they can be rescued? For example, do they intend to carry out the action when both parents are at work and their siblings are at school.
The greater the number of “Yes” answers, the higher the risk and the greater the need for immediate onward referral of the student. Parents should be informed at once and asked to bring the student to their GP or to another service. (If a student is under 18 years teachers are obliged to inform the parents even without the student’s consent).
The following (appendix 2.) is taken from NEPS booklet “Responding to Critical Incidents:-Advise and Information Pack for Schools”
(Adapted from Critical Incidents: Managing Loss and Trauma in Schools: A Wiltshire Psychological Service and School Improvement and Support Information Booklet.)
How teachers can support students in school following a critical incident
- Students should be given opportunities to discuss the incident and express their thoughts or feelings in a secure environment. The teacher needs to be aware of the importance of handling the discussion in a confident but sensitive manner. However, normal routines should be returned to as soon as possible.
- Students should be encouraged to resume sports and other extra-curricular activities.
- Help students re-establish support systems, identify with them who they go to for different kinds of support.
- It is appropriate that the class curriculum is adjusted or adapted. For example, teachers should avoid presenting new learning material for a while following an incident as concentration may be impaired.
- Use opportunities which arise within ordinary class work, where coping and support can be reinforced.
- Students could be encouraged to discuss how to avoid future crises and lessons learnt from their experiences. There will be opportunities within the school’s personal, social and health education programmes for structured discussion.
Meeting with individual students
- Take your cue from the student. When they feel like talking, try to find the time to listen. If the time they choose is not appropriate, explain that you would like to talk with them and name an alternative time and place.
- Don’t be afraid to mention the incident or the deceased person’s name. It is important to acknowledge what has happened for the student.
- It is alright to ask the student what he/she needs, what helps or what doesn’t help.
- Let the students know that it is normal to laugh and cry. Reassure them it is okay to lighten the mood by remembering old times and stories.
- Believe what the students say. Feelings must be acknowledged, believed and discussed. Try not to make comments such as “you don’t really mean that” or “it will be okay soon”.
A classroom session following a critical incident
(Adapted from Critical Incidents: Managing Loss and Trauma in Schools: A Wiltshire Psychological Service and School Improvement and Support Information Booklet.)
A classroom session is an important intervention following a critical incident that affects large numbers of students. Sessions containing up to 30 students can be effective. It is recommended that the classroom teacher take an active role, if possible. Students may feel safe and secure with their classroom teacher rather than being with an adult they do not know. Teachers may be able to lead these sessions and a D.D.L.E.T.B. psychologist can act as a co-facilitator. If the teacher feels uncomfortable with this role the psychologist may take more of an active role. Teachers should have the opportunity to opt out of this work if they wish.
A class session needs to be tailored to the developmental level of the class. The time required will vary depending on the class experience and age.
The process involves:
• providing facts and dispelling rumours
• sharing stories
• sharing thoughts and feelings
• normalisation of thoughts and feelings
Providing facts and dispelling rumours
State the facts clearly. Talk in concrete rather than abstract terms. Dispelling rumours helps students understand the reality of the events. Helping students hear the facts is an important prerequisite for coming to terms with what has happened.
Students are asked to tell their story of the event. As a result they will feel less alone because of their common shared experiences. Helping them verbalise their experiences helps their recovery. For those students who find it difficult to verbalise their experiences or for students with learning difficulties it may also be helpful to allow them to express their feelings and recount their experiences in other ways. Writing stories or using art can be particularly helpful, especially for younger students. Give the students a choice as to how they want to represent their experiences. Have a box of tissues at hand.
Sharing thoughts and feelings
Help the students identify what they thought and felt at the time of the incident, or when they first heard of the incident. It may be helpful to share your own feelings, thoughts and fears that you experienced during the crisis or just after hearing the news.
Normalisation of thoughts and feelings
Explain that their reactions are normal responses to abnormal circumstances. Let the students know that in time, for most people, the reactions or symptoms will go away. Inform the class that if the symptoms don’t go away they need to seek help. Distribute handouts on reactions to grief to the students, if appropriate.
Help the students identify strategies that they can use to help manage symptoms. For example, talking to family and friends, getting enough sleep, exercise etc. If appropriate, students can brainstorm ideas that might help prevent a similar situation happening again. Overall, it is important to help the students regain a sense of control.
End the session by focussing on the future. Depending on the nature of the incident, help the class/group decide what would bring about a sense of closure, for example, organising a memorial, writing cards or letters. Reiterate the message that their reactions are normal responses to abnormal circumstances. Tell students what further supports will be put in place if needed.
(Adapted from “Grief in Children: Someone to talk to”. Barnardos p. 64 – 65.)
It is acknowledged that while there are distinct stages/phases in the grieving process different people may go through these stages in different sequences and at different paces. Generally the grieving process in adults is thought to take about two years while with children and adolescents it may be over a more extended time-frame with different issues arising as they go through developmental milestones.
Denial, numbness, shock (up to 6 weeks)
• Death of the person may be denied
• Emerging feelings may be suppressed
• Refusal to talk about the death
• Bereaved keeps very busy to avoid thinking about the death
• Bereaved may show signs of confusion and forget everyday routines
• Children in shock may display either silent withdrawal or outbursts of crying/screaming.
Acute grief/searching and longing for deceased (6 weeks to 4 months)
• Acute sadness – crying
• Physical pangs of pain including loss of appetite and disturbed sleep
• Emotional pain accompanied by dejection, hopelessness, lack of concentration
• Fears of life after death, nightmares, ghosts
• Strong guilt feelings and questioning of self and others, particularly in the case of a sudden death
• Feelings of anger at the departed for leaving them
• Bereaved may reject offers to comfort them.
Adaptation to life without the deceased (6 months to 18 months)
• People begin to adjust to their lives without the lost person
• Sense of isolation
• Fearful of forgetting the deceased
• Less crying and irritability
• Exacerbation of existing personality problems. Children with low self-esteem may be at a greater risk of emotional behavioural difficulties.
• Getting on with life
• Returned sense of humour and play
• Able to participate emotionally in new relationships
• Changed relationship with the deceased – able to think of the deceased without pain
• Reduction in physical/emotional symptoms
• Less guilt.
Children’s understanding and reaction to grief according to age
(Adapted from “Children’s understanding of death” Barnardos. p. 28 – 32.)
The following are guides only – children will differ in their reactions and grasp of events for a range
of reasons other than age alone.
Infants (0 – 2 years)
• Infants do not understand the meaning of death
• They may display anxiety when separated from a loved one
• They may appear upset, subdued and uninterested in their surroundings.
Ages 2 – 5 years
• No understanding of the permanency of death
• May search for the missing person
• May feel responsible for the death in some way
• May become apathetic and depressed
• May regress to an earlier stage of development e.g. thumb sucking, bedwetting, tantrums or may become clingy etc.
• May develop fears of going to sleep
• May worry that other loved ones may die.
How you can help
- Continuity of normal routine e.g. mealtimes and bedtime
- Offer physical comfort
- Explain the death in clear simple language, using words like “dead” and “died”.
- Do not use terms like “gone to sleep” or “passed away”
- You may need to repeat the same information again and again
- Permit them to ask questions and be consistent in your answers
- Reassure them that they had nothing to do with the death and of the well-being of other family members.
- Ages 5 – 7 years
- Beginning to realise the permanency of death, but their idea of life after death is still vague
- May have concerns about how the deceased is feeling or thinking in the grave
- May have a lot of questions about aspects of the death e.g. how the person died, what they looked like, the funeral, heaven, coffins etc.
- The reaction of their peers is important, may feel ‘different’ to them
- Their peers may be awkward about the death and avoid contact
- They may become the target of bullying.
- How you can help
- Encourage the child to talk and cry about the deceased if they wish to, otherwise respect their silence
- Answer questions and provide as much factual information about the death as possible
- Reassure them that thinking and feeling ceases after death
- Be vigilant in relation to bullying.
- Ages 9 – 12 Years
- Understand the finality and universality of death
- Awareness of their own mortality and may worry about their own death
- May display psychosomatic symptoms
- May wish to stay at home close to parents
- May display anger.
- How you can help
- Dispel fears about their own health or the health of other loved ones by offering reassurance
- Encourage them to go to school
- Allow them to express their anger, offering appropriate ways to do so.
- Fully understand the finality, universality and inevitability of death. Their experience of death is similar to adults
- May feel a range of feelings: guilt, regret, anger, loneliness etc.
- Death adds to the already confused array of emotions
- May appear to not care about the death
- May seek support outside of the family.
How you can help
- Offer them time to listen
- Allow them to express their grief in their own way
- Be prepared for mood swings.
Note: If parents are grieving themselves, they may be emotionally unable to support their other children. In this instance, another supportive adult in the child’s life, e.g. other family members, friends, neighbours may need to offer emotional support.
It should be remembered that for children with special educational needs, their understanding of what has happened will be in line with their developmental age.
The range of ‘normal’ reactions to a Critical Incident
(Adapted from Somerset Educational Service pack.)
Each individual has his/her own way of dealing with feelings, loss and tragedy. There is no right or wrong way to react and any or all of the following can be experienced.
Shame Thumb sucking
Anger Over dependency
Regret Social withdrawal
Anxiety Mood swings
Shock Loss of concentration
Isolation Insecure feelings
Misuse of drugs, including alcohol
Headaches Sense of unreality
Gastrointestinal Problems Preoccupation with images of the event/person
Loss or increase in appetite
Guidelines for input with pupils on coping with their reactions to a Critical Incident
This might also be used as a handout for pupils and parents as appropriate.
Coping with a critical incident can be difficult and stressful. It can affect the way we feel, think and behave. The following information will help you understand some of the feelings and reactions you may experience within hours, days or weeks after an event. There are also some suggestions on what may help you during this time.
Feelings and thoughts
You may experience:
Shock at what has happened. Things may feel unreal. Shock sometimes causes people to deny what has happened. This doesn’t mean you don’t care. You may feel like withdrawing, crying or becoming hysterical.
Fear about the unpredictability of everything especially life, of a similar incident happening again, of breaking down or losing control, of being alone.
Guilt – feeling responsible in some way for what has happened even though you are being told you could not be, for not being able to make things better or not being able to help others, for being alive or better off than others.
Shame for not reacting as you thought you should, for needing support from others.
Anger at someone or something, wanting to blame someone or something for what has happened, at the injustice of the event.
Confusion about the event, about how you should react, about having mixed feelings about everything.
Pain at the loss of the person, of associating this with other incidents, bereavements or losses that you may have experienced before.
Left out by people not acknowledging your involvement in the incident or your relationship with the person who is injured or deceased.
Physical and behavioural reactions
It is quite normal to experience, tiredness, sleeplessness, nightmares, headaches, loss or increase of appetite, bowel/bladder problems, loss of concentration, irritability. Sometimes people feel generally unwell.
• You need to look after yourself
• You are normal and are having normal reactions to an abnormal event
• There are people you can talk to
• You may not experience any of the above feelings.
There is little you can do to avoid these uncomfortable feelings and thoughts but there are things you can do to help you recover.
What can help?
- Talk – Try to talk about what happened and how you feel. Don’t bottle things up. Sharing your experience with others who have had similar experiences may help. Let someone know if you are not coping well. If it is difficult to talk, keep a journal of how you are feeling or draw your
experiences or emotions.
- Thinking over the incident – You need to process the incident and allow it more into your mind over time. With time you may need to talk about it, write about it. You may find that you dream about it over and over again. All this eventually helps you to accept what has happened.
- Attending memorials – Going to the funeral or service.
- Eating properly – Try to eat a regular meal three times a day.
- Exercise and relaxation – Make sure you take some exercise and also find ways to relax and rest.
- Be careful not to use drink or other drugs to help you cope – They may numb the pain temporarily but will lead to other problems.
Seek help if, four to six weeks after the event,
• you cannot cope with or feel overwhelmed by your feelings
• you (continue to) have nightmares
• you experience sleeplessness
• intrusive thoughts about the event persist
• you begin to have problems in school
• you have been using excessive drinking, smoking or other drugs to help you cope since the event.
Guidelines for meeting with parents
When a critical incident occurs, many parents are very anxious about how their child will react and what they can do to help. It is often useful for the school to arrange a meeting after school to allay parents’ fears. It also reduces the number of individual calls and visits to the school from concerned parents. It is recommended that the Principal heads the meeting and the psychologist attends to talk about the psychological impact of trauma. The following are recommended areas to be covered at the meeting.
- Acknowledge what has happened, offer condolences and give space for sharing of feelings and emotions if appropriate.
- Outline what has been done to date and a plan for the next days and weeks. (How the students are reacting in general. What help has been provided and by whom and what help will be provided in the future).
- Outline what are the normal reactions to a critical incident and provide handout.
- Go through Children’s Understanding of Grief and provide handout.
- Suggest ways in which they can help their child (Give Frequently Asked Questions by parents).
- Give time for people to vent their concerns and provide answers, if possible.
- Advise that you will all be available at the end of the meeting for 15 minutes if anyone has any
further concerns or questions.
LETTER TO PARENTS (1)
(Sample letter in the event of a tragedy)
The school has experienced (the sudden death, accidental injury) of one of our students. We are deeply saddened by the death/events. (Brief details of the incident, and in the event of a death, perhaps some positive remembrances
of the person lost)
We have support structures in place to help your child cope with this tragedy. (Elaborate)
It is possible that your child may have some feelings that he/she may like to discuss with you. You can help your child by taking time to listen and encouraging them to express their feelings. It is important to give them truthful information that is appropriate to their age.
If you would like advice or assistance you may contact the following people at the school. (Details)
LETTER TO PARENTS (2)
(Sample letter requesting consent for involvement of outside professional/s)
Following the recent (tragedy, death of X) we have arranged professional support for students in school who need particular help. (X ……) is available to help us with this work. This support will usually consist of talking to children, either in small groups or on a one-to-one basis and offering reassurance and advice as appropriate.
Your son/daughter has been identified as one of the students who would benefit from meeting with the psychologist. If you would like your child to receive this support please sign the attached permission slip and return it to the school by…………………
If you would like further information on the above or to talk to the psychologist, please indicate this on the slip or telephone the school.
I/We consent to having our daughter/son met by a psychologist employed by Dublin & Dun Laoghaire E.T.B.
I/We understand that my daughter/son may meet the psychologist(s) in an individual or group session depending on the arrangements which are thought to be most appropriate.
Name of student:
Date of Birth:
I would like my daughter/son …………………………… to avail of the support being offered by the psychologist.
RESOURCES FOR SCHOOLS
INTO/Ulster Teacher Union (2000).
When Tragedy Strikes: Guidelines for Effective Critical Incident Management in Schools.
Guidelines for Schools on How to Respond to the Sudden Unexpected Death of a Student.
City of Dublin VEC Psychological Services.
Coping with a Major Crisis.
City of Dublin VEC Psychological Service.
When Something Terrible Happens…
County Dublin VEC, Psychological Support Service
Critical incident Management information Pack (Counsellors Networking Day, Marino institute May 2006
Pat Donnelly, Barnardos (2002).
Someone to Talk To: A Handbook on Childhood Bereavement.
Luke Monaghan (1999).
Suicide Bereavement and Loss: Perspective and Responses.
Siobhan Foster Ryan and Luke Monaghan (2001).
Echoes of Suicide.
The Irish Association of Suicidology, National Suicide Review Group (2002).
Suicide Prevention in Schools: Best Practice Guidelines.
William Yule and Anne Gold (1993).
Wise Before the Event. Coping with Crises in Schools.
Pub. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
Available from Solas, Barnardos Christchurch Square, Dublin 8.
Death – Helping Children Understand.
RESOURCES FOR CHILDREN
Perkins and L. Morris (1991).
Pub. A & C Black (Children under 7 years).
J.M. Krementz (1991).
How It Feels When a Parent Dies.
London: Orion Children’s Books (age 7 – 11).
My Father Died and My Mother Died.
Cruse – Bereavement Care (11 years –).
Judith Bisignano (1991).
Living with Death (A Workbook for 12 – 15 year olds).
Pub. Good Apple, USA.
Noirin Hynes and Margarita Synott.
Death and Dying: A Resource Pack.
Available from the Marino Institute of Education.
RESOURCES FOR PARENTS
Helen Fitzgerald (1992).
The Grieving Child – A Parent’s Guide.
Pub. Simon and Schuster, New York.
Sorry for Your Trouble – Helping the Bereaved (a tape).
A Special Scar: The Experience of People Bereaved by Suicide.
Pub. Routledge, London 1991.
Sharry, John & Reid, Peter & Donohue, Eugene (2001).
When Parents Separate: Helping Your Children Cope.
Pub. Veritas Publications, Abbey Street, Dublin.