Critical Incidents. Information for schools from Derbyshire Educational Psychology Service

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1 Critical Incidents Information for schools from Derbyshire Educational Psychology Service

2 Introduction to Critical Incidents A critical incident (CI) is any event that is unexpected, acute, stressful and exceeds the normal coping capacities of individuals. Such incidents may be horrifying and evoke reactions of intense fear and helplessness. They usually involve the perceived threat to one's physical integrity or the physical integrity of someone else. Importantly they undermine a person's sense of safety, security and competency in the world. In some cases schools need help and support with significant critical incidents or complicated grief. In such cases, there may be a risk to the emotional wellbeing of the school community because of emotional disturbance or injury (potential trauma ) linked to the event. Members of the school community may also be at risk of longer term effects. How this is dealt with by the Educational Psychology Service (EPS) will be dependent on the consultations between the school and the Educational Psychologist (EP) and the resilience of that community. Examples of a CI: Death or serious injury to (in or out of school) a pupil, a family or staff member witnessed by or closely involving members of the school community; Violence or severe aggression from a visitor to the school directed at or witnessed by staff or pupils; Serious crime or abuse to pupils which will become known to other members of the school community; Any other sudden and unusual event which may upset the emotional wellbeing of pupils and staff and interfere with the smooth running of the school. The EPS response As part of our commitment to the psychological wellbeing of Derbyshire school communities, the EPS will try to respond promptly when incidents of this kind are reported. When alerted to a possible incident, the EPS will assess the nature of the incident, advise on the right level of response, and offer appropriate support to the school. The EPS will try to assist in the process helping the school to recover. Additionally, help and support will be offered to try to keep the school functioning in an effective way and to identify and help individuals who have been affected by the events.

3 The principles of the EPS response: Derived from previous good practice and updated to ensure that we continue to work from the foundation of evidence-based research findings; Congruent with other policies current within DCC; A consensus achieved after discussions with the school. Nature of the support Where it is appropriate the EP will offer general support to the school community in planning their recovery. Note about electronic communication Increasingly, the electronic communication that flows after critical incidents elaborates on what is known and rumours abound. This can be very upsetting for those involved and is important that accurate information is passed on to those who have been affected. This may include: A consultation approach to problem solving within the school; A listening ear ; Telephone contact for advice and support; Work with individuals who are upset Note about counselling It is common for the media and public to associate the response to critical incidents with counselling. This is used as a generic term and does not reflect the research which is equivocal on help for individuals. There are forms of intervention that the EPS may negotiate in appropriate circumstances; however, these are concerned with normalising the responses that individuals may experience and focus on helping the school community to recover.

4 Whole School response to Critical Incidents Have a plan for the first few days after the event. The educational psychologist can help you with planning. Hold a staff meeting as soon as possible to share the plan and any relevant information. Meet regularly to feedback and monitor the situation. Maintain structure and stability within the school. It would be best, however, not to have tests or major projects within the first few days. Provide teachers and parents with information about what to say and do for children in school and at home. Have teachers provide information directly to their pupils, not during the public address announcements or assemblies. Assure children that they are safe and that school is well prepared to take care of all children at all times. Allow time for age appropriate classroom discussion and activities. Do not expect teachers to provide all of the answers. Teachers should ask questions and guide the discussion, but not dominate it. Other activities can include art and writing projects. Identify pupils and staff who may need or want extra support. Be aware of pupils who may have recently experienced a personal tragedy or have a personal connection to victims or their families. Even a child who has merely visited the affected area or community may have a strong reaction. Provide these pupils with extra support and leniency if necessary. Be careful not to stereotype people that might be associated with the tragedy. Children can easily generalise negative statements and develop prejudice. Talk about tolerance and justice versus vengeance. Stop any bullying or teasing of pupils immediately. Monitor or restrict use of social media and texting or viewing scenes of the event as well as the aftermath. Typical responses to loss, bereavement and traumatic events Bereavement, grief and mourning Loss affects our thoughts and feelings which drives our actions and responses. When we experience loss we go through a process grief. Bereavement what happens to you Grief how you feel about it Mourning how you deal with it The idea of loss is also embedded in the word bereavement which can be described as the loss of something which is precious.

5 Research indicates that there are number of stages of grief, but that these do not necessarily occur in a linear manner, as people often move back and forth between different stages at different times. The stages include: Shock, disbelief and numbness Upset, crying sadness Loss of searching Anger and regret Acceptance Letting go and moving on When a child grieves Like adults, children need to grieve and research has shown that children and young people grieve in much the same way as adults. However, there are differences: the initial period of intense grief is considered to be shorter for children although it may take them longer overall to complete the grieving process. A key factor to predict how a traumatic event might be dealt with by a young person is the child s age. As with all aspects of coping with stressful events, the age at which the child is asked to cope can have a crucial impact on how they deal with the event. In general, children under 5 years lack the understanding that death is final or that life functions have ceased. From 5-10 years there is a gradual development of understanding that death is final and that all life functions have ended, and from 10 years through adolescence the concept of death becomes more abstract. Social, emotional and physiological changes during adolescence can result in a very intense reaction to death. It is important to remember that in children with special educational needs their grieving and their understanding about death will reflect the child s developmental age and cognitive understanding, rather than their chronological age. It is also important to note the impact of grief on other vulnerable children; these may include children with difficult life experiences and previous experience of loss, pupils with complex needs in special schools where bereavement can be more frequent, and children with particular difficulties such as those on the autism spectrum. Religious, spiritual and cultural issues Do not be afraid to admit you do not fully understand cultural values or customs Be prepared to find out what rituals and customs there are Be sensitive to the cultural differences around responses to death Involve interpreters if that would be useful Be mindful of religious and non-religious belief systems Respect the child and family and the feelings that may arise from their beliefs Be aware that beliefs that give you strength may not be shared Involve spiritual leaders of your community Find out about festivities, celebrations, mourning and remembrance

6 Key facts for schools Grief is the response to the loss of someone we love; it is painful but normal You cannot fix it for pupils but they may need to be supported through grieving Pupils should be involved in making choices about the support they receive. Often school is the only part of the pupil s life that remains normal and young people should be asked about what they need and clear plans for any alternative arrangements should be agreed Keep communicating with the child and family and ensure the relevant staff are involved Look and listen watch out for changes in behaviour and attitude Grief will be re-visited over time so it is important to be aware of significant dates, events and the impact of the grief at different developmental stages Look after yourself to be of help to others you must take care of yourself Stages of grief Shock, disbelief, numbness School cannot do it all but they can be part of a network of support Upset, crying, sadness Loss of appetite, sleep, interests Anger, regret, guilt Acceptance Letting go and moving on Needs Feelings Responses / Behaviour Warmth, clothing, comfort Security, comfort, love and attention Food/drinks, health Security, self esteem Self worth, to be wanted, time with others Security, attention Sad, lonely, numb, scared Upset, sad, desperate, not understood, scared Ill, tired, disinterested, listless Angry, snappy, spiteful, hurt Calmer, happier, able to cope Quiet, withdrawn or tearful Tearful, moody, seeks attention and/ or comfort, unable to concentrate No lunch, sleepy, snappy, ill tempered Angry outbursts, destructive Able to work, join in, concentrate Types of Support 1:1 listener Comforter e.g. teddy, quiet space 1:1 support, trusted group support, a place of sanctuary Check out, encourage drinks, eat small amounts Space to talk, time to write/draw, pillow to hit, 1:1 support Friends, staff to share happy memories Involved, back Able to support When needed, especially on form, happy others anniversaries Create support by working with the Educational Psychology Service Further training and additional documents are available from the EPS

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