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Critical Incident Policy


This policy was formulated by the teaching staff, and principal in conjunction with the Board of Management, in February 2005.


This document has been produced in order to enable school staff to respond in an informed manner when dealing with smaller tragedies that commonly hit schools and to provide guidance if a rare major crisis strikes.

Relationship to Characteristic Spirit of the School

In Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál, New Inn we are committed to promoting a caring and happy environment in which the children feel safe and secure in their learning. However, critical incidents may occur in very sudden and unexpected ways, which threaten this atmosphere. Therefore, it is our responsibility to be as prepared as is possible to deal with such occasions and to care for our pupils in as sensitive, calm and nurturing a manner that we can. By developing this policy, we shall have a focus and plan of action to follow, enabling us to take into consideration the needs of those around us.


- Respond to a critical incident in an informed manner.

- Create a positive, open climate where needs of staff and pupils are met in critical situations.

- Recognise which incidents are critical for school community.

- Develop an understanding of the nature of trauma and its impact on pupils and staff.

- Create a safe school environment whereby the physical, social and psychological health of pupils and staff is prioritised.

- Recognise the value of adapting active learning strategies outlined in the S.P.H.E curriculum.

- Establish positive working relationships and communication with outside agencies and to enable full, effective collaboration with them, in the event of a critical incident.


What is a critical incident?

Critical incidents may involve one or more pupils, staff, the school or the community in which they function. They may happen in school, during out of school activities, or within the wider school community. Whether an incident is critical or not depends on past and current experiences as well as the perception and coping skills of those involved. What is traumatic at one stage in the life of a person or school may not be so at another time.

Different Types of Critical Incident

• Death, major illness/outbreak of disease

• Criminal incidents

• Major accidents, serious injury

• Suicide

• Sexual, physical and psychological abuse

• Civil unrest, war

• Fire, natural and technological disaster

• Disappearance of student from home or school

• Unauthorised removal of student from home or school

Those who can support schools in responding to critical incidents.

• School Management: The main role of school management is to legitimise critical incident work and to pave the way for effective planning and delivery of school intervention techniques. This can be done by developing an emergency plan, in which staff and other members of the school community are provided with information on the impact of a critical incident on school life. Training on such management of issues should be made available for designated staff. The style of management must be supportive, non-intrusive and keenly conscious of the need to bolster staff morale and goodwill in the school community.

School management has a ‘Duty of Care’ to the school and will be

responsible for overseeing the response to an incident.

• Support Agencies: Agencies such as the Educational Psychological Service, Social Services, Health and Welfare agencies have expertise in dealing with the impact of critical incidents, and most likely will work with the most badly affected.

• Specialist Consultants: have a role in training and supporting management and schools in coping with major events. They work in partnership with local professionals and are sensitive to local needs.

• Other Community Professionals: The clergy, GP’s and health visitors will have important supportive roles to play. Fire and police service personnel can give talks to promote safety, raise awareness and reduce fears.

Strategies for dealing with critical incidents

Pre-Incident Preparation: Checklists

Safety Procedures : Staff are encouraged to:

• Check regularly that buildings, playground equipment, fire exits, burglar/fire alarms, etc. are in good and safe condition. If repairs have to be undertaken, ensure they are seen to promptly.

• Ensure systems are in place to admit visitors to the school, monitoring of entrances and exits, type of information required from a caller to the school before access is granted, extra vigilance of strangers or irregular events around the school.

• Act promptly if you suspect anything out of the ordinary.

• Ensure systems are in place for school evacuation.

• Know what is happening in the community.

• Ensure procedures are in place for dropping off and collection of children at peak times. Regular monitoring of these procedures is crucial.

• Copies of school plan are pinned up in key areas of the school and are visibly noticeable. Key areas of the school are signposted. All members of staff have copies of plan.

Procedural Checks

Teachers prepare, practise and maintain:

• Health and safety procedures, fire drills, procedures to deal with bomb threats etc.

• Child protection procedures.

• Procedures for dealing with bullying and discrimination (race, gender, disability, age, religion).

• School trip and fieldwork safety guidelines and procedures.

• Critical incident management procedures from rescue through to recovery.

• Contact address lists and telephone numbers for staff and pupils.

• Knowledge about other disaster management plans and procedures for this area, e.g. plans by gardai, hospitals, fire service, councils.

Social Safety

Staff attempt to:

• Create an atmosphere where children, parents and staff feel they are personally safe, emotionally and behaviourally. (If necessary different religious beliefs about death will be checked.)

• Create shared understandings between parents, staff and pupils about values and codes of behaviour.

• Create and practise respect and inclusiveness for all members of the school community.

• Create consistency but act with flexibility, according to the circumstances.

• Create open lines of communication using external and internal resources.

• Be clear about boundaries, what is negotiable and what is not. Be aware of consequences of actions.

• Keep an eye on the needs of different classes and the staff team.

• Build healthy, positive links between home, school and community.

• Deal with difficulties at an early stage and avoid problems developing.

• Create a spirit of inquiry – teachers should not be expected to know everything, children and parents can find answers too.

Menu of Main Tasks in Response to a Critical Incident

Immediate tasks

• Take emergency action to ensure safety at on site incidents.

• Establish a ‘command’ centre – identify who is in charge and set regular briefing times.

• Establish communication systems and appoint an information co-ordinator.

• Inform and liaise with relevant authorities, managers and agencies.

• Mobilise personal and professional support (self and team).

• Collect, record and up-date facts of the crisis and aftermath.

• Inform parents, relatives, close colleagues.

• Organise the re-union if necessary.

• Adapt prepared media statement (via appropriate channels).

• Assess initial impact on staff and pupils, using class registers.

To do as soon as possible after the incident

• Arrange staff meeting for information, support and initial defusing of reactions.

• Mobilise staff support and information exchange systems.

• Agree how and what pupils will be told.

• Consider options for class discussions and expressions of reactions.

• Assign procedure and place for distressed children to go to.

• Assess potential vulnerability of staff and pupils systematically.

• Adapt and distribute prepared letter to parents – show staff.

• Adapt and circulate information leaflets about coping for parents and pupils.

• Keep in contact with media through press statements.

• Plan visits to injured and bereaved.

• Plan rituals/memorial services/assemblies.

• Plan the next phase and the return to normal routines.

• Monitor pupils with help of support services. Refer if necessary.

• Assess need for debriefing of staff and pupils with expert help.

• Mobilise plans for post-incident curriculum.

• Mobilise on-going follow-up and monitor staff and pupils.

• Keep links with absent staff and pupils.

• Arrange review sessions to check progress.

• Arrange debriefing and support of the crisis response team.

• Check progress of whole staff team and school systems with support of advisors from external agencies.

Key Actions when Implementing Emergency Plans

• Directive but sensitive leadership may be appropriate in confused situations.

• Assess the needs of the situation e.g. if evacuation of the building is necessary, initiate agreed school evacuation procedure.

• Initiate action needed – notify appropriate emergency services.

• Co-ordinate the response, liaise and delegate.

• Record and verify details – time, place and people involved.

• Inform parents.

• Create a calm, purposeful environment.

Guidelines on Liasing with Parents

• Inform parents by phone or in person if their child is involved, as soon as the initial information is confirmed. Consider that media/ and or children with mobile phones may have reached them first with inaccurate information.

• Ensure a correct and consistent message is given.

• If the numbers involved are large and the event distressing, a number of staff sharing the task ensures support for each other and a pooling of information in relation to questions being asked by parents.

• If the incident occurs away from the school on a school activity, care must be taken in managing the reunion. The pupils are leaving a group, which has shared an intense experience, and now have to cope with parents and a world that seems different.

• Provide where possible, a comfortable, secure and private waiting area out of media and public view for the actual meeting.

• Prepare and calm anxious parents by giving simple, accurate information about the incident, the state of the children and what to expect when reunited with them.

• Practical and emotional support and information can be given to each family.

• Teachers may have to wait with parents knowing they are probably bereaved but unable, on gardai instruction, to tell them what they may suspect until identification is certain.

• Other parents need to be aware of the incident and its impact on the school. This also helps spread accurate information and demonstrates a caring and communicative approach. Advice on supporting children and help available can be sent to all parents.

Letter to Parents

Letters should:

• be brief and accurate.

• consider family wishes for privacy, particularly in the case of suicide.

• include facts about the incident.

• state action taken by the school.

• indicate school’s next step or give information about future plans.

• give information on common reactions of children to trauma or death emphasising that most reactions, even if distressing, are normal but may still be in need of support.

• indicate where and when to seek further help within the school and externally.

• invite ideas, information and feedback from parents to promote open channels of communication.

• advise if plans are being made for parent’s meetings.

Dealing with the Media

Press Statements

Press Statements should be as regular as up-dates are needed. They should include:

o facts about the incident – what has been done and what is planned, without raising false hopes.

o affirmation of the principles of critical incident management

- to reduce stress/prevent further stress

- to stabilise the situation

- to normalise and promote the functioning of school and individuals

- to ensure people get the help they need, and

o Letting them know you have a school emergency plan and unsolicited help is not required.

Media Interviews: Guidelines

o Take a few moments to decide if you can cope and plan what will be said.

o Write down a few key points before the interview.

o Keep it simple, factual and brief.

o Deal with criticisms rather than become defensive.

o Take your time and seek clarification if necessary.

o Be aware of legal issues, and the language/terminology used.

o If you decline to speak state a time when you will be interviewed or refer to a Press Officer.

Dealing with the Short term/Medium term and Long term Response to Critical Incidents see appendix (A, B & C)

Checklist for teachers to recognise reactions to trauma: appendix D

How teachers can respond to pupils post-incident: appendix E

Class Activities to promote healthy coping skills: appendix F

Staff Care: appendix G

Emergency Contact List: appendix H

School Plan: appendix I

Roles and Responsibilites

? Immediate implementation of plan and response to incident where school is directly affected:

? Contacting emergency services:

? Informing parents:

? Preparing media statements and interviews:

? Organising reunion where necessary:

? Debriefing staff:

? Providing access to counselling/support with outside agencies:

? Making safe school premises:

? Arranging review sessions to check on progress:

? Delivering curriculum to promote caring environment:

? Delivering curriculum to promote coping skills:

? Care of pupils post-incident:

? Care of staff post-incident:



Short Term Response

Key Tasks:

• Maintain a calm atmosphere and clear leadership.

• Gather data and assess the vulnerability and needs of different groups.

• Offer parents opportunities t consult the school for information, support and practical help where needed, together or individually.

• Organise staff support for all school personnel

• Provide opportunities for staff consultations, both group and individual

• Be available for children, parents and each other – but share the load.

• Liaise with other agencies defined in your plan.

• Visit or consult with families in relation to funerals and community services.

• Organise assemblies /opportunities for the school community to congregate.

• Stop rumours, hurtful joking and the insensitive passing on of horrific stories


Medium Term Response: Normality has returned /Reality is Sinking In

• Find time for a short break from the response work

• Follow-up staff team sessions and affirm coping and stress management

• Highlight classroom approaches i.e Circle Time and class discussion

• Continue liaison with other agencies.

• Manage differences arising in school and the community.

• Provide opportunities for parents to consult, talk etc.

• Organise talks, if necessary, in relation to safety etc.

• Continue to record information about parents’ and teachers’ concerns

• Deal with behavioural changes related to the event

• Deal with fears related to the event

• Deal with reminders of the event – teach simple stress management

• Arrange for external help for individual referrals, if needed

• Continue to keep links with people not at school.

• Liaise with the DES/DE and other agencies in relation to funding for help and support

• Schools may be asked to be involved in fund-raising, distributing gifts, award ceremonies, visit by dignitaries, dealing with invitations from other communities etc.


Long Term Response – By the end of the first year and after

Key Tasks:

• Maintain monitoring and review, but meetings will be less frequent.

• Support individuals still affected and experiencing new problems.

• Observe pupils for behavioural changes and entrenched trauma symptoms.

• Assess impact on pupils’ performance.

• Deal with reminders of the event and the impact of inquests etc.

• Be aware of how staff are coping personally and professionally.

• Continue creative coping strategies in the general curriculum.

• Prepare for transitions e.g. change of school.

• Where appropriate, record and pass information to next school.

• Commemorate anniversaries.

• Organise creative activities for whole school.

• Continue with help from external agencies where available.

• Crisis response teams need to end their involvement properly with validation from others. A facilitated meeting or debriefing is helpful to clear up unfinished business and avoid sense of loss.

• Review and record information for others and review the school plan.


What teachers need to know about reactions to trauma

• As children are individuals they may not fit the lists of trauma reactions. Some survive very traumatic events while others fall apart after lesser incidents.

• It can take time for the true impact of an event to be absorbed by a child.

• Reactions may be hidden at home or school or both. Children often protect adults or don’t trust how they will respond. Sharing observations with parents, other teachers and carers ensures that a complete picture is built.

• Reactions may come and go quickly.

• Reactions may be displaced on to other people or events. You may get an ‘over-the-top’ reaction to a minor incident or anger directed at the wrong person.

• Reactions may not always be a problem for the child in the way you think – check it out. Tears are often described as a problem but silence as ‘being brave’.

• The event may be past, but the loss continues through life. One girl who lost her mother said she grieved again at each stage of her growing up -–First communion, going to secondary school, first boyfriend, graduation, marriage and her first child.

• Not every reaction is related to the trauma – other things happen in life too.

• Many specific symptoms are treatable, some are preventable. Seeking help sooner rather than later prevents complications arising.

Always watch for:

• Changes in behaviour, pre and post trauma;

• ‘over- the-top’ reactions inappropriate to the person and situation;

• patterns of distress; and

• persistence of problems and where there is no progress (such as repetitive play).

Primary School Children:

The main focus of this age group is learning to acquire a sense of purpose, independence and self-esteem. If a trauma occurs at this stage then these will be shaken. The fact that more is expected of them personally and at school emphasises some reaction.

Some reactions specific to this age:

a) ‘young’ behaviour e.g. wanting to be fed, dressed

b) physical complaints – aches and pains;

c) clinging to parents, competition with siblings;

d) guilt and magical thinking, feeling responsible for the event, family safety etc.

e) school phobia, poor performance;

f) repetitive talking and

g) feeling different to peers.


Responding to Pupils

• You cannot get it right all the time, but how you deal with mistakes is important. Be humble and ask how things could have been said or done differently.

• If you are unsure what to say or do, it is alright to ask the child what s/he needs.

• Be respectful of the child’s privacy. If you need to talk about the incident to staff and pupils discuss it with the child in the first instance.

• Never force a child talk about an incident but creating opportunities for doing so is important.

• Never make a child draw or write specifically about an incident but create opportunities for doing so by choosing general titles and giving choice.

• Wherever possible, take the focus off a distressed child by generalising and drawing in other children’s stories and experiences.

• Don’t rush; let the child be your guide. Use age appropriate language.

• Children do not want to be constantly observed and analysed – they soon know when every action is being watched.

• Check you know what a child’s question is really about, keep answers simple, check their understanding and encourage future questions.

• Deal with fantasies not based on fact. Don’t misinform or use euphemisms. Be sensitive to the fact that parents often do because of distress or ignorance. Parents may need to be helped to deal with problems created for both the child and teacher as a result of misinformation.

• Be genuine – don’t act. If you can’t cope with distress, acknowledge this and offer to help find someone who can cope.

• Be matter-of-fact, avoid confusion, talk in concrete terms not abstract terms.

• Watch for opportunities within ordinary class work where coping and support can be reinforced and problems anticipated. This work is often very opportunistic and low-key.

• Don’t be afraid to mention the name of a dead sibling or friend as children notice when you do this. By mentioning the dead, children will know that they are significant and will not be forgotten should they die.

• Use your own support systems to discuss any problems, uncertainties and distress. Ask children what helps and what doesn’t.

Class Activities to Promote Healthy Coping Skills

Individuals who cope best in life are those with a broad range of coping mechanisms. People cope differently and will very often criticise others who do not cope in the same way as they do.


Staff Care

This is the joint responsibility of:

• Management: by fulfilling their ‘Duty of Care’ to staff and pupils through creating a caring ethos in school, pre-trauma planning, staff in-career development, effective management of the incident, providing resources, acknowledging the impact on staff and setting up staff support and information sharing systems.

• Staff Colleagues: being mindful of each other, creating tolerance of different reactions to stress, sharing information and ideas, keeping a watchful eye on each other, co-operating for the good of all staff.

• Yourself: dealing with existing personal issues and needs, acquiring knowledge and skills on the subject, knowing limits and valuing one’s own contribution to the well-being of the staff group and pupils.


Seeking support and back-up for decisions is good management. People under stress are not always capable of judging their own stress levels and their perceptions can be distorted by the re-triggering of personal issues and anxieties.

Support is available from the following:

• Unions;

• Board of Management ?Governors;

• Education and Health advisors /Inspectors /Educational Psychologists /Employee Assistance Officers /Welfare Officers:

• Other school principals and staff;

• Health Boards;

• Mental Health agencies.

• Health support groups;

• School crisis management consultants; and

• Private counsellors and therapists.

This Policy was ratified on 7/3/05.

Signed by: Fr. John O’ Connell, Chairperson, B.O.M.

Contact List

Ensure that a list of emergency telephone contact numbers is easily available to others. It should include:

• Emergency services:

• Medical Services – Director of Community Care – local GPs – hospital – education /health board personnel;

• Board of Management /Governors, DES/DE, Inspectors, Education Boards and Psychologists;

• School community – parents /guardians staff (including, administrative and ancillary staff);

• School Maintenance – plumbers, electricians, general repairs, office equipment;

• School support – Union representatives, Educational Advisors and Psychologists, Social Services, Employee Assistance Officers /Welfare Officers;

• Media & local papers, local radio stations, union media co-ordinator;

• Clergy /Pastoral care teams, community groups, library (for information).