09 July, 2018 - Minister Bruton announces significant expansion of suicide prevention training for teachers

SafeTALK programme rolled out to an additional 6 education centres around the country 

Minister also announces training on responding to critical incidents to be delivered to all post primary schools in the country over the next 2 years 

The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton T.D., today (9th of July 2018) announced that over the next two years, teachers in every post-primary school in the country will receive training on how to respond when a critical incident occurs in their school community. The Minister also announced a significant expansion of the SafeTALK programme to a further 6 Education Centres around the country. 

This announcement is part of the Minister’s broader focus on supporting student wellbeing in all schools as part of his ambition to make Ireland’s Education System the best in Europe by 2026. 

A critical incident is defined as an incident or series of events that overwhelms the normal coping mechanism of the school, for example, a suicide or a road traffic accident involving a member of the school community. Training on responding to critical incidents will be delivered by the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) and teachers in all post primary schools in the country will have the opportunity to take part in the training over the next two years. 

The SafeTALK programme is an internationally recognised training programme that stresses safety while challenging taboos that inhibit open talk about suicide. A model of the programme specifically targeted at teachers and other school personnel was developed by the Department and the National Office of Suicide Prevention. This training commenced in the 2017/18 school year in 6 Education Centres. Today the Minister announced that the course will be available in a further 6 Education Centres from the start of the new school year. Schools in the area of each Education Centre will be invited to send two relevant members of staff to participate in the SafeTALK training. 

Making the announcement today, Minister Bruton said, “I am keen to put as many safeguards as possible in place in our schools, to ensure we help our most vulnerable students. Unfortunately, while we put a big emphasis on preventative measures in our schools – such as the work we are doing on our Junior Cycle Wellbeing programme, it is sometimes necessary for a school to respond to a critical incident. 

“Coping with the aftermath of critical incidents has become a challenging but necessary task for a number of schools in recent years. The training that we are announcing today, will ensure all schools are prepared to respond to such an incident. 

“SafeTALK is an internationally recognised programme that can help teachers address the topic of suicide in a safe way. This is such an important conversation to have and I’m glad to be significantly expanding the availability of this training. 

“Finally, I’d just like to extend my utmost sympathies and indeed admiration to all the schools and families who have shown wonderful strength, compassion and resilience at times of tragedy. I acknowledge the invaluable experience, competence and skills that teachers already have in dealing with children and young people in times of distress.” 

Ends 

Note for Editors 

Critical Incidents 

NEPS Critical Incident Response Service

The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) provides assistance (on request) to all schools that experience critical incidents.  School authorities wishing the support of a NEPS psychologist in the aftermath of a critical incident should contact their local NEPS office

The training being announced today is based on the NEPS publication, Responding to Critical Incidents: Guidelines & Resource Materials for Schools (2016) which was launched by Minister Bruton in 2016 and distributed to all schools in the country. This publication is based on international research on best practice in critical incident response. 

Definition and Types of incidents

NEPS defines a Critical Incident as an incident or series of events that overwhelms the normal coping mechanism of the school. The kinds of critical incidents experienced by schools includes suicide or suspected suicide, death due to violence, illness or accidental death (e.g. road traffic accidents, drowning). 

Overview of Critical Incident Guidelines for Schools 

Sections

The guidelines cover the broad areas of prevention, planning and intervention

  • A general description of the role of NEPS.
  • Prevention.
  • Preparation and planning.
  • Issues around suicide, road traffic accidents and violent death.
  • Dealing with the media.
  • Critical incidents during certificate exams.
  • Resource Materials, Handouts and Templates for schools responding to a critical incident. 

Prevention: This section briefly describes elements of schools’ policies and practices that promote mental health and wellbeing. It highlights the need for staff training and awareness as well as procedures for responding to vulnerable students. 

Preparation & Planning: This section details how to prepare for a critical incident and covers:

  • What is a critical incident
  • The establishment of a Critical Incident Management Team (CIMT)
  • Key administrative tasks
  • A checklist for reviewing policy and plan 

Intervention

The next three sections set out a recommended action plan for schools and a step by step guide through the various stages of the response:

  • Short term actions – Day 1
  • Medium term actions – Days 2/3
  • Follow-up actions 

In the aftermath of a tragedy, NEPS advises that schools focus not only on supporting vulnerable /at-risk students, but also focus on enabling a return to normal learning routines as soon as possible as well as positive mental health and resilience promoting activities. 

In the immediate aftermath of a critical incident the school’s Critical Incident Management Team activates the Critical Incident Management Plan which may include: 

  • Communicating with students, staff and parents about the tragedy.
  • Accessing appropriate support including service from NEPS and other community agencies.
  • Liaising with bereaved families.
  • At families’ request, organising school involvement in the funeral ceremony.
  • Communicating with parents about supporting their children.
  • Identifying students at risk, communicating with their parents and linking them into appropriate services.
  • Monitoring school attendance.
  • Dealing with media.
  • Information and advice about dealing with particular types of incidents; e.g. death by suicide/ suspected suicide, road traffic accidents and violent deaths.
  • How to best deal with media interest and advice on use of social media.
  • NEPS’ role during certification examinations is addressed. 

The approach of the Department of Education and Skills/NEPS to promoting well-being and preventing suicide among young people 

Despite the implementation of evidence-based suicide prevention and mental health promotion practices in our schools, sadly, some suicides continue to occur. The Department of Education and Skills/NEPS promotes a comprehensive and whole-school community approach to the promotion of positive mental health and the prevention of suicide, as well as individual young people with identified need. This approach is based on national and international evidence and best practice. Current best practice advises that suicide prevention should focus on building protective factors, including resilience, in young people to enable them to cope with the various challenges they encounter during adolescence. 

The Department has been active in publishing guidelines for schools to support them in the area of social and emotional development and in dealing with crisis situations as follows: 

The above guidelines suggest approaching prevention at the following levels: 

  • School Support for All is a whole-school approach that focuses on promoting positive mental health for all members of the school community.

  • School Support for Some is embedded in a whole-school approach and specifically focuses on the early identification of a small number of young people or groups who are at risk of developing unhealthy patterns of behaviour or who are already showing early signs of mental health difficulties.

  • School Support for a Few builds on a whole-school approach and focuses on putting in place interventions for young people with more complex and enduring needs. These young people, relatively few in number, usually require the involvement of external agencies that support and complement the work of the school.

  • The Well-Being Guidelines were developed collaboratively between the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive and are informed by current research. They provide practical guidance on how schools can promote mental health and well-being in an integrated school-wide way and also provide evidence-based advice on how to support young people who may be at risk of suicidal behavior.

  • The Guidelines build on the significant work already taking place in schools, including implementing the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum. The effective implementation of the SPHE curriculum provides a scaffold and framework to foster the health/well-being of young people in a planned and structured way. Support for implementation is available from the Professional Development Support Service for Teachers, NEPS and other external agencies and services.

  • Student Support Teams in Post-Primary Schools was issued to schools in 2014 and the NEPS service actively supports and advises schools on the development or review of Student Support Teams. 

Safetalk 

About safeTALK

SafeTALK 'suicide alertness for everyone' is a half day training programme that prepares participants to identify persons with thoughts of suicide and connect them to suicide first aid resources. 

SafeTALK training enables participants to; 

  • Identify people who have thoughts of suicide.
  • Recognise that invitations to help are often overlooked.
  • Move beyond common tendencies to miss, dismiss or avoid signs of suicide risk.
  • Apply the TALK (Tell, Ask, Listen, and Keep safe) steps to connect a person with suicidal thoughts to people and agencies that can help.
  • Connect the person with thoughts of suicide to suicide first aid help and further community resources.