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Critical Incident Procedure and Support for Loss and Bereavement

Page last updated: 03/09/2019

​​The Educational Psychology Service (EPS) will offer support in situations that have the potential to cause disruption and distress to the school when members of the school community are affected by a significant loss, event or on-going situation. EPs will support the Senior Management Team to implement their School/Critical Incident Management Plan and can offer emotional support with a particular focus on coping skills in trying to think through what they have experienced. They can also signpost to other agencies where necessary. Research does not promote a need for counselling in the immediacy of a traumatic experience but emotional support and reassurance can be helpful.  This is the best agreed approach by agencies that provide Critical Incident support (such as the EPS and EWMHS).

In the event of a critical incident where you require support from the EPS, please call the Schools Communication Team on 0333 013 9880. Further information on how to deal with a critical incident can be found on the Critical Incident​ page. 
EPS Critical Incident Poster which provides information that can be printed off and displayed on your school noticeboard for easy access should you need us in an emergency.

When does the EP Service get involved?

Examples of types of critical incidents that might involve the EP Service include:

·         The sudden death of a member of staff or a pupil attending a school
·         A serious accident involving pupils or staff members
·         A major fire in a school/setting
·         An event witnessed outside of the school setting (such as a serious assault or accident).

What can the Essex EP Service do?

​Essex Educational Psychology Service has experienced Educational Psychologists who can respond rapidly during a critical incident. Senior Specialist Educational Psychologists are trained to take a lead role in this work. The EP Service co-ordinate support for a significant number of schools across Essex each year.

The EP Service response to a critical incident usually falls in to one of the following 3 levels as well as development work with schools (which could be before an incident happens or as a result of):

Development: Advice or training to school or service on loss, bereavement and how to support pupils and each other. An incident may not impact on the whole school. Support could be development work such as writing School/Critical Incident Management Plans or policies (S/CIMP)

Level 1: Advice or support to a school or service in response to a critical incident where there is an impact on the school community where the staff can cope with this themselves, perhaps with some reassurance/information/signposting to resources

Level 2: Response to a school or service where a significant critical incident impacts heavily on the whole school community.

Level 3: A major incident which may impact on the whole local community. The EP Service work is likely to be part of a larger Local Authority / multi-agency response.

The level of response to a critical incident will be determined between the school, the EP service and other services involved (eg EWMHS). A description of the incident or event in itself will not necessarily indicate what level of response will be required - the level of impact within a school community and the School's own wants/needs are more of an indicator.

Examples of EP Service input including the following:
·   Initial consultation with the School Senior Management Team.
·   Advice on an appropriate plan of action and prioritising actions.
·   Advice to school staff and parents on appropriate ways of understanding and managing children and young people's reactions.
·   Short-term individual or group emotional support for those staff, parents or pupils who may want or need this. This work will always be done in conjunction with school staff.   Emotional support can include a safe space for people to speak about how they are feeling (should they want to); messages of reassurance and information about reactions to traumatic events; consideration of how people are coping with the situation and resources they can draw further upon.
·   Guidance on identifying vulnerable individuals or groups within the school community (be that staff / children & young people or families) and support with referrals to appropriate support services for those who may experience longer-term difficulties.
·     Liaison and co-ordination, if appropriate of other services providing support / services to school following a critical incident (e.g. EWMHS).

What can schools do to support this EP work?

  • ​·    ​ Have a School/Critical Incident Management Plan (S/CIMP).  (Schools may already call this a School Emergency Management Plan – critical incidents should be part of this).  The EP service can provide guidance for what to include.  Review plan regularly, meeting with team of staff identified in the plan to discuss roles and responsibilities should a critical incident occur.  Consider training for all staff on loss and bereavement / critical incidents.  Check regularly that the phone numbers for your main contacts are accurate. Display contact details for the Schools Communication Team clearly and accessibly.  See resources for example.
  • ·     Have a Bereavement policy that is linked to (embedded into) the S/CIMP outlining what your approach is to developing a bereavement aware school community.  See resources for examples.
  • ·    Write annually to parents alerting them to the possibility that the EP service (and/or other services who may provide support) may offer emotional support to pupils should a critical incident occurs; invite parents to indicate if they do not wish their child to meet with an EP.
  • ·     Other opportunities for consent may arise if a communication is going to be shared about a critical incident to the parents (e.g. a letter to share the news about an event).  A sentence inviting parents to withdraw from this offer of support for their child could be included.
  • ·     This will enable EPs to be able to speak with pupils during the initial occurrence of a critical incident, if this is required (and agreed to by the child or young person).  If a child or young person may benefit from some further emotional support from an EP (beyond initial day of the incident); then a Consent and Data Form should be completed and signed by parent/s.
  • ·     If the incident requires EPs to support your school in person; arrange for the EP to meet with the senior management team (or team identified in the S/CIMP) and discuss what has happened; what needs to happen next and create an action plan.  This is most helpful when done with other agencies together to co-ordinate any support for the school.
  • · ​    Provide key members of staff to be available to work alongside the EPs when providing emotional support to others.  This is necessary because the aim of EP support is to enable and support staff to be able to support their students and families of their school community.  School staff will be the most relevant people to be with students in times of distress and will also be available and present for the upcoming days, weeks and months and so can continue to share the key messages provided by the EP during emotional support conversations.  Research suggests that children and young people prefer / find it more beneficial (and recover from distress more) speaking with familiar people who they will have an on-going relationship / contact with.  Research does not promote a need for counselling in the immediacy of a traumatic experience.  There may well be a need for some EMOTIONAL SUPPORT and reassurance.  This is an approach supported by evidence based research and is the agreed best approach by agencies that provide critical incident support (such as EWMHS).
  • ·     Allow time for ‘check-in’ meetings to share information and update as events unfold and the situation moves forward.  This enables key staff to be supported; for action plans to be adjusted accordingly and to identify what is going well and any issues that have arisen.

What other support is available to schools in relation to Loss and Bereavement?

Loss and bereavement are part of everyday life. People generally find that others already in their lives can provide sufficient support to help them grieve and manage distress. Up to 70% of schools have a bereaved pupil on their role at any one time. Schools can be 'bereavement aware' within their school culture to support those pupils, staff and parents within their school community who are grieving.

A lot can already be done through school:
·   Including discussions of loss and bereavement in the school curriculum and well-being/pastoral systems.
·   Following school policy around loss and bereavement (ensuring that they have a Critical Incident Management Plan/Policy and ideally would include a policy on the schools approach to bereavement)
·   Responding to pupils questions and concerns in this area.
When staff and pupils take up opportunities across the school day to talk about loss, grief and other emotions, a dialogue and language is being developed and this can be very helpful if the school experiences a sudden death or terminal illness of someone within the school community. By talking about ways in which we can cope with/manage distress and support one another, the groundwork is being laid for such support to be put into action if and when the school community experiences a loss.
Schools will already have support strategies or policies in place but may wish to have a consultation with an Educational Psychologist (EP) for example, if a school wishes develop their policies, plans or become more 'bereavement aware'.
Events may arise that may not be sudden or traumatic which still impact on pupils/staff within the school community such as coping with the terminal illness of a member of the school community. Your school link EP can support your school.

Additional Documents/Links for Loss and Bereavement

​National Association of Educational Psychologists have published an example School Incident Management Plan in conjunction with Northamptonshire County Council: NAPEP example of School Incident Management Plan helpful site with support for schools, professionals, families and young people. site full of information and resources.​