Definition of a Critical Incident.
A Critical Incident/Trauma is any incident or sequence of events which overwhelms normal coping mechanisms of the school. It is an event which is unexpected and may result in physical or psychological injury, or death of a member(s) of the school community”.
St. Michael’s Holy Faith Secondary School, aims to protect the wellbeing of its students and staff by providing a safe and nurturing environment at all times.
The school already has in place a range of measures to address physical and psychological safety in the school community. E.g. Fire & Safety Measures, Security on school doors, Rules regarding attendance of students at class, Anti-bullying Policy, Guidance & Counselling support, SPHE Programme for Students & SPHE Training for staff, Pastoral Care System, Information on Teacher Support Service, etc.
Aim of the Policy & Plan
This Policy & Plan is to enable us to react quickly and effectively in the event of an incident, to enable us to maintain a sense of control and to ensure that appropriate support is offered to students and staff.
The Critical Incident Management Team is responsible for putting the policy and plan in place. Each member of the Team has a Critical Incident Folder, containing a copy of the Policy and materials to be used in the event of an incident. A Copy of this Folder is kept in the Filing Unit in the Staff Room.
Members of the Team & Responsibilities
Principal Team Leader
Contact other members of the group, call meetings of group, obtain accurate information, and co-ordinate tasks, inform and update staff, liaise with Media, NEPS, DES, B.O.M., Gardai.
Shadow Principal & keep records/log events, etc. Act as Team Leader in the absence of the Principal.
In the absence of Principal/Deputy Principal.
Liaise with Students, alert other staff to vulnerable students, Provide materials for students from student folder, keep records of students seen by external agencies.
Liaise with parents, visit home. Liaise with parents Council. Liaise with emergency contact services in the Community if necessary.
Year Head concerned
Liaise with Year Group
Liaise with class
Staff Liaison Person
Provide staff with information and materials for students, be alert to vulnerable staff members, advise staff of availability of support service and provide contact information to them.
Keep up to date telephone numbers. Take phone calls & notes of those that need to be responded to, photocopy materials needed, prepare & send out letters, etc. as required.
An Outline Immediate Response.
Depending on the location and nature of the incident:
If in school environment
- Get immediate help.
- Contact the emergency services.
- Preserve the scene.
- Inform Management.
It is crucial that the school has the correct information regarding the crisis. Therefore it is important that senior and involved staff, gather to establish the facts – this may involve contacting others such as hospitals, Gardai, parents.
An early (8.00 a.m.) meeting of Critical Incident Management Team will be held if the incident happens outside school hours.
If possible there will be an embargo on information to the media until this meeting has been held.
The group of senior and involved staff need to agree an immediate plan of action which, may involve,
- Have emergency meeting of above team.
- Agree a common statement. (Prepared letters informing parents and announcement to the media are in the Trauma Response File in the Staff Room. Copies of are also in the pack which each member of the Trauma Response Team has been given).
- Assign Tasks within the group.
- Inform remaining staff including ancillary staff.
- Deploy Pastoral Team. (Prayers)
- Inform Tutor group.
- Inform student body.
- Inform Board of Management.
- Contact Parents and Parents Association.
- Visit the home of the bereaved.
- Alert outside agencies. NEPS. Gardai, Counseling & Youth Services within the community,
- Liaise with those at the site of the crisis (in the case of an out of school crisis)
- Principal should be shadowed by a recording secretary.
- It is vital that all those requiring information should receive it as soon as is practicable.
- It is helpful if a common statement is agreed when informing students and others. (See Prepared Statements in Pack)
- Such a statement will reduce the spread of rumour.
- Attempt to alert and inform staff in the first instance.
- If at all possible, all students should be told at the same time in no larger groups than normal class size.
The statement should
- Be communicated in a sensitive manner.
- Give the facts as they are known.
- Highlight the supports that are available.
- Indicate the actions that are planned.
Proposed public statement ‘It is with great sadness that we have learned of the sudden death of xxxxxxx. As details of this tragedy are still emerging, we ask you to respect the family’s right to privacy at this time and to remember them in your prayers’.
In the case where an accident has occurred on a school trip:
The person in charge will inform the Principal.
A similar statement is needed to assist those who will be telephoning relatives.
It is preferable to have a group of people involved so that all concerned are informed in or around the same time.
Some further considerations in contacting parents:
Offer any practical help needed – transport, phone numbers, contact names.
Enquire if the parent is alone or has someone to offer support.
Carefully review with the parent that the information given has been fully understood.
Alerting parents to the trauma will help them when they subsequently make contact with their child.
Liaising with the Press.
This will be done only by the Principal/Deputy Principal. In their absence it will be done only by the senior staff member deputizing for them.
In preparing a press statement, thought should be given to the following suggestions:
Priority to be given to the sensitivities and needs of those affected directly by the crisis.
The non-release of names, addresses and telephone numbers.
Others to be Informed.
When possible, inform the chairperson of the Board of Management and decide whether and emergency meeting of the Board is necessary.
Consider when, or if, it is appropriate to inform the school’s insurance company and other concerned agencies.
The action that is needed in the short term will obviously be very dependent on the nature of the crisis. Actions will come under a number of headings:
Sustaining an atmosphere where it is ‘okay’ to talk about the experience. This will require the availability of staff and others. (Room 18 and the Study Centre have been suggested as suitable ‘drop-in’ centres). It will entail sensitivity to the time needed for such sharing. Care should be taken to balance the need to continue with the normal routine and the accessibility of support personnel for students. The shape of the day should be maintained.
The most essential quality in adults needed by students is that of listening. The school needs to put in place a support, outside professionals where required, time and resources to carry out their role, a method of supporting each other, and a review of their effectiveness.
Encourage contact with home in the initial stages of a crisis. Parents need to be able to contact the school if they have information that will help the school in any way in caring for their child.
Involvement of students in any funeral or other services. This requires invitation, planning and review. The families involved need to be consulted, the students invited to take part, time given to prepare for this participation and, finally, a debriefing of those concerned.
Some form of ritual in the context of the school. Students should be carefully consulted as to the nature of such a ritual. Such an experience may also be of great benefit to staff and parents.
Attention needs to be given to the possible signs of distress being exhibited by students. In noticing possible signs, it is important to say that these are not necessarily indicative of stress in relation to a trauma. Rather they are merely prompts to staff as they ‘watch out’ for the students in their care. Such signs will be related to uncharacteristic behaviour, for example being unusually quiet. It is important that staff can check-out signs with others before drawing conclusions.
Students need to be asked their ‘permission’ regarding discussing their feelings and reactions to a crisis. The guidance counsellor is a key person in addressing the needs of individual students.
Freedom to be upset is important for anyone responding to a trauma. The school needs to ask itself how it creates a safe atmosphere for this to occur.
Students not directly involved with the trauma should also be recognised as some may be affected. Allowing students to express their sympathy can be a catalyst for such students – writing a card, attending a service.
Constant reminders will need to be given in relation to the supports that are available, that students will react in different ways and at different times.
Focus on the friends of a bereaved student, as they can be the best source of support. Often the bereaved student may not wish to speak to an adult and may rely heavily on friends. These friends may need support as they attempt to find ways to be of help.
Many staff, following a trauma, may need to air their feelings and reactions. It will be helpful to consider a number of possibilities such as: availability of the pastoral team; contacts for professional help; a staff ritual; a de-briefing meeting of the staff; a simple confidential questionnaire to determine the needs of the staff.
Care needs to be taken of those staff directly involved with a trauma that they receive support, are not overworked, and are able to de-brief.
Staff who feel, for whatever reason that they are unable to be involved in the school’s direct response to the trauma should be able to opt out readily.
Those staff having any concerns about students or others in relation to the trauma should have easy access to personnel who can assist them.
The guidance counsellor, H.S.C.L. and other members of the pastoral team will be the key resource in the short and medium term response. They need to be facilitated, resourced and supported in their task. It is vital that they regularly meet with the principal in reviewing progress. It will be this group, who can liaise with, and support, the staff.
The principal will also need to ensure he/she is receiving support. The weight of responsibility surrounding a crisis may be enormous. Principals are often people who are very competent in practically responding to a crisis. Nonetheless, the principal needs to have a care for his/her own well being and seek whatever support is appropriate within and without the school community.
The school will have some role to play in supporting parents concerned with a trauma. This will vary depending on the nature of the crisis and the resources available to the school.
Provide contact people for parents to liaise with, particularly in regard to monitoring the progress of their children.
Put parents in contact with each other if it is appropriate.
Discuss with involved parents and/or the parent’s council what action can be taken to support those concerned.
The home-school co-ordinator is an invaluable resource here. Involve parents in a school liturgy or ritual following a tragedy.
Decide what form of representation is appropriate. It is essential, where possible, to consult the family concerned. Do not presume that the bereaved family will appreciate a very public presence of the school.
Prepare students ahead of the funeral. For some this may be the first occasion they have been exposed to a major grief. Take time after the event to de-brief students.
For those students who wish, encourage and assist them to write a personal message of sympathy.
An expression of sympathy from the school should be as follows: “The school expresses sympathy at the family’s loss”.
If possible, representatives of the school should visit the home of the bereaved. If students request to visit the home, phone ahead to check that this is appropriate. Visiting the bereaved may be distressing – support those involved.
Medium and Long-term Action.
The following are a selection of the possibilities worthy of consideration:
Students returning to school after a major accident or bereavement cannot easily be categorised in terms of their needs. The pastoral team will be a useful resource in seeking to support each student appropriately. Care should be taken to monitor: the relationships with peers and teachers; falling behind in academic and other work; involvement in extra-curricular activities.
Consider if a special day of reflection/retreat would benefit the class affected by a tragedy.
Offer a Rainbows/Spectrum/Beginning Expenence/Barnardos workshop to students. Such bereavement related groups will be a resource to the school in responding to the medium to long term needs of young people and adults in the community most affected by a tragedy.
The pastoral team will benefit all in the school by constantly reviewing the needs of students, staff and parents in relation to issues of trauma. Review of curricular provision, specialist staff training and links with outside agencies in the area of change, loss, death and crisis issues. When a subsequent bereavement occurs in the school setting, take care to support those who were bereaved previously as this subsequent trauma may trigger deep emotional reactions.
An annual remembrance service for all those connected to the school community, who have died. Students, staff and parents can be encouraged to record the names of those they would like remembered.
The dedication of a tree, special garden, piece of artwork, notice board to recall those that died.
It is vital to review procedures in the light of experience. It is most helpful to take time to evaluate the effectiveness of policies and procedures subsequent to their application. It will also be supportive to contact other schools and professionals to assess courses of action both proposed and taken.
Some Needs of a Child Experiencing the Death of a Loved One
- Give as much information as the child can absorb and understand.
- Answer questions as they are asked.
- Allow the child to see that the parent is experiencing some emotional distress.
- A child needs a constant assurance of love – even when misbehaving.
- A child needs to know that the parent is able to love and care for him/her, even while experiencing strong emotions.
- A child needs to be assured that he/she is lovable.
Expressions of Emotion
- A child needs to know it’s okay to have feelings of anger, fear, loneliness, etc.
- A child needs to learn how to deal with feelings.
- A child needs to talk about changing feelings.
- A child needs help to say the words “My Mother Died”.
- A child needs reassurance that he/she is not responsible for the death.
- A child needs to do as much as possible on a regular schedule.
- A child needs to be reassured that the remaining parent will not leave.
- A child needs to know that there are some facets of life that have not been changed by the death.
- A child needs a special time with the remaining parent.
- A child needs to maintain, as much as possible, normal disciplinary standards of the home.
- A child needs to be assured that discipline isn’t a result of the death.
- A child needs time to adjust to the concept of death.
- A child needs time to adjust to the new life-style that living with a single parent will bring.
- A child needs time to express emotions and listen to the parent express emotions.
- A child needs times of “fun” with the surviving parent.
- A child needs time to regain belief in the fact that life can and will continue at somewhat of a normal pace.
This is written in regard to a child losing a parent. However, the needs are the same whether the loss is parent, grandparent, sibling, etc. In the case of the death of a parent, if the remaining parent is not able, for whatever reason, to fill the child’s needs, and adult that the child loves and trusts needs to be there for the child.